Team Photo Courtesy of Kory Hayden, Action Photos Courtesy of Mike Geib

APRIL 15, 2012, MORAGA, Calif. -  On a sun soaked Sunday afternoon, two national powerhouses squared off in a true test of rugby at its purest form. Fantastic field conditions and a superb crowd at Pat Vincent Rugby Field in Moraga, CA set the backdrop for a friendly battle between Saint Mary’s and Cal Rugby that provided an intense day of clean, suspenseful rugby that was anything but friendly.  View Photos.

What would have been a pinnacle league game between the Saint Mary’s Gaels and the Cal Bears, became a friendly match when Cal removed the varsity rugby program from USA Rugby Division I competition earlier this year. Nevertheless, this game between Cal and SMC proved that these two teams won’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to intensity on the pitch- no matter what the stakes may be.  

From the first whistle to the last, the contact was fierce and the resolve of the ball carriers was undeniable. Defense ruled the day, and with the dominance of the Saint Mary’s forwards, the Gaels overtook the Bears as they continually pushed back the Cal scrums.

Cal opened up the scoring with well-constructed phase rugby and high skill to put the Bears up by 5. Saint Mary’s charged back with physical play, finalizing with senior prop Matt Crawford touching down to even the score. Cal took advantage of a Saint Mary’s penalty to increase their lead to 8-5. Both defenses proved worthy of the test for the remainder of the second half by applying pressure and textbook tackling.

Right before halftime, Saint Mary’s made a costly mistake when an unnecessary off load pass went straight to Cal’s Lock, Brendan Daly. Daly then ran, uncontested, to lay the ball down under the posts. The conversion was true and the two teams converged at halftime with Cal on top 15 to 5.

There was no let down in the second half as physical play from both squads continued.  Led by the Gaels superior forwards and determined backs, Saint Mary’s scored two trys to take a 17 to 15 lead.  First it was wing, Cooper Maloney, who broke loose for a try that Augie Heath converted from the far left side, bringing the score to 12-15. Moments later, Augie Heath scored to give Saint Mary’s their first lead of the game, at 17-15.  

There were several individual plays, from both teams, that had fans cheering proudly. Saint Mary’s reorganized their tactical kicking and increased the defensive pressure to prevent Cal from scoring a key try in the second half. Cal, unable to penetrate the Saint Mary’s defense, relied on their kicker, who slotted a penalty to put Cal back on top 18 to 17. Saint Mary’s went on attack and made several attempts to pierce the Cal defense. When they did, Cal was able to recover and reset, denying the Gaels from touching down. Cal was penalized. Saint Mary’s stood to take the lead 35 meters out. With an eerily silent crowd watching, Saint Mary’s missed the opportunity to take back the lead.

Saint Mary’s would not be denied, though, and continued to attack the Cal defense, who were again penalized. In the 76th minute, to the delight of the home crowd,  Augie Heath kicked the 30-meter penalty to put the Gaels up 20 to 18.

With only a few minutes remaining, Saint Mary’s remained impenetrable, leaving the Cal offense with no time and no space. The final whistle blew and the Gaels were victorious. Fans of both teams experienced an epic battle that showed great rugby, fierce defense, and an experience like no other in collegiate rugby.

When it was all said and done, one fan’s comment captured the essence of the game when he said, “Not bad, for a friendly.”

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