Three Ways Gaels Showed They Are Contenders Again

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Don't crown Saint Mary's your next D1A champion just yet, but take note, Saturday's victory wasn't just any old result.

The Gaels looked on top of the heap for much of the 2017-18 season, thanks in large part to a sweep of BYU, a win over Cal, and domination in the California Conference. But injuries and fatigue made for an early exit in the playoffs, providing a lesson in how you can't count your chickens, ever.

But ... let's count three chickens, at least. Here are three reasons Saint Mary's showed it is a top-level team once more.

Game Plan

Head coach Tim O'Brien and the team leadership formulated a plan that was decidedly non-Gael. Don't quick tap (much). Don't fling the ball around. With the wind and the rain and the cold, you're better off punching it to the corner and pressuring from there.

On penalties? Drive it, said O'Brien. Drive it, drive it, drive it.

Normally, college players playing in an early game, the first shown live on FloRugby, might be a little over-excited, and perhaps forget that game plan. Not Saint Mary's. The Gaels did (mostly) what they were supposed to do. They used the boot to force Central Washington into errors, they kicked for touch on penalties, and they played to the conditions, as asked.

Depth

All kinds of questions have dogged Saint Mary's in the offseason. Would the loss of Mike McCarthy at flyhalf be a problem? Would the loss of Alec Barton and the recent injury to Marcus Viscardi hamper them at flanker? What would happen with a bunch of small freshmen on the perimeter?

Answers: Not really, apparently not, and they would play defense and score tries.

The big news seems to be that Joe Yacoubian has slotted in at flyhalf and looks pretty comfortable there. Working with his older brother, Sean, at scrumhalf, the Scottish-born pivot handled his role just fine.

Out wide, Tsuyoshi Enokida, Diego Vasquez, and Edward King handled themselves well, didn't over-commit to the counter-attack, and showed some nice skill, too (see the try up above).

And at flanker? Well Colin Clancy was called into the fray in place of Viscardi and was superb. He was the main target in the lineout, stole lineout throws from Central Washington repeatedly, and was solid around the field.

The Stranglehold

Central Washington could barely hold onto their scrums ... and sometimes not even then.

They struggled a great deal with winning their lineouts, and had no answer, really, to the Saint Mary's set piece. The Gael defense bottled up the Wildcats such that the most dangerous CWU runners (Cole Zarcone, for example) had little ball and less space.

It wasn't just that Saint Mary's shut out a good team with good coaching and good personnel; Saint Mary's didn't allow even the suggestion of a score. 

So Watch Out

More tests are to come. Saint Mary's will play Cal at Cal, BYU twice, and a pretty formidable Glendale Academy U23 team this year. There is no really entrenched top tea at the moment, as Cal, BYU, Saint Mary's, Lindenwood, and, of course, Life, could all be good enough. 

But Saint Mary's at least confirmed that it should be in that conversation.

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