Saint Mary's had some serious difficulty with Cal Poly on Saturday, and while the host Gaels came away 36-17 winners, the Mustangs showed well in Moraga, California.
For top-ranked SMC, which is set to tour Italy before hosting No. 3 Cal on April 7, the victory was in doubt until the final 20 minutes or so. Cal Poly, now ranked 13th by FloRugby, kept the game tied 7-7 with 50 minutes gone behind its defense and ability to maintain possession.
Date: April 7 | Time: 7 PM CDT | Site: Moraga, CA
"Cal Poly did a superb job of using who they had and were very well prepared," Saint Mary's head coach Tim O'Brien said. "They have some big guys who were not going to be denied, and they've got a couple of pretty nifty players who can take advantage of gaps or who aren't shy about challenging people, and they got after it."
The Mustangs held 55 percent of the possession, and that, combined with the Gaels scoring right off the kickoff, didn't help Saint Mary's. That quick try perhaps made SMC's players expect the game to roll their way. And then Cal Poly dominated possession.
"Any team is going to start to get frustrated when you're starved of possession, and we did," O'Brien said. "And we started to make mistakes, make turnovers, and take low rugby IQ penalties. We went over it on the film, and the guys were very attentive."
In the end, though, that works out well for both teams. The Mustangs go into a crucial set of games against Arizona on Saturday and San Diego State on April 7 with a little bit of confidence. Saint Mary's, which retains its No. 1 ranking despite looking a bit shaky, was ripe for a scare.
"It was just what we needed," O'Brien said. "We needed a big, strong team to punch us in the mouth and not take a step back. This will help us with the Cal game [on April 7] for sure, and this should help Cal Poly with their game against San Diego State."