Men’s Rugby: Gaels Hold Off UC Berkeley in an Epic Battle

In the latest match-up in what has become a fierce rivalry between the best teams in the Bay Area, Saint Mary’s defense paves the way for a 38–34 victory over the Golden Bears. The Gaels are now on solid ground for the playoffs.

by Cian Messner ’23 | March 27, 2023

ABOVE: Saint Mary’s Inoke Waqavesi ’23, scrumhalf, in the battle against Cal / Photo by Rebecca Harper

In the long-anticipated seasonal contest between the Bay Area’s best rugby programs, Saint Mary’s bested UC Berkeley on the Golden Bears’ Witter Field this past Saturday, March 25. With a 38–34 victory, the Gaels have now solidified their standings for the playoffs, which begin April 15.

As expected, the game delivered the highest levels of collegiate rugby. Saint Mary’s opened up the game kicking off to UC Berkeley. The Golden Bears quickly went to work, pounding the ball deep into their own half before turning it over to the Gaels. 

Within 10 minutes of play, the Gaels put points on the scoreboard. Mario Storti nudged the ball deep in Bear territory for a Gael lineout, which allowed the maul to drive Josh Allan over the try line. 

Three Saint Mary's men's rugby players in a kickoff against UC Berkeley on March 25, 2023
Gaels kick-off: No. 1 Lleyton Delzell, No. 3 Joe Marchant, and kicker Joe Yacoubian ’21, MBA ’23Photo by Rebecca Harper

Saint Mary’s continued the pressure on Cal, playing a free-flowing offense that overwhelmed UC Berkeley's defense. The Gaels’ Storti capitalized for Saint Mary's in their second try of the match, notching the score to 12–0 Gaels. 

The Bears’ ambition kicked in, and they responded with a try of their own.The Gaels answered that back, thanks to some fast footwork by Inoke Waqavesi ’23. Waqavesi ran through the defense and laid it off to Storti for his second try of the match.  

The next action came from the Gaels stealing a line out, freeing Joe Marchant to terrorize the UC Berkeley defenders. But a turnover cut the momentum short and the Bears responded with a try, narrowing the Gaels’ lead to 19–12. 

Saint Mary's rugby players  Hunter Chuhlanrtseff on the left and Ronnie McElligott on the right prepare for a scrum against UC Berkeley March 25, 2023
Prepare for a scrum: The Gaels' Hunter Chuhlantseff, left, and Ronnie McElligott / Photo by Rebecca Harper

With half-time looming, the Gaels allowed UC Berkeley to score their third try of the game. But with quick thinking, the Gaels’ Storti cleared the defensive line to score a hat trick and bring the score to 26–19 Saint Mary’s.


A Battle for the Lead

At the start of the second half, UC Berkeley added a penalty goal to cut into the Gael lead before adding another try on top of that, giving Cal their first lead of the game. The Golden Bears scored another try to stretch their lead to 34 over the Gaels’ 19. 

Saint Mary’s responded with a strong and fast passing sequence from Iosefa Toia'ivoa, Joe Marchant, Erich Storti, and Dominic Besag, which brought Inoke Waqavesi over the try line. The Gaels kept the momentum rolling after the Bears conceded a penalty on the kickoff. This allowed Saint Mary’s to pin Berkeley deep in their own territory before Joe Marchant capped it off with an acrobatic try in the corner. That put the Gaels in the lead 38–34 with 12 minutes left to play. There the score would stay. 

Saint Marys rugby players Kaipono Kayoshi, Josh Allan and Lleyton Delzell in the background against UC Berkeley March 25, 2023
Battle for the lead: Gaels' No. 8 Kaipono Kayoshi drags a Cal defender, with Saint Mary's Josh Allan and Lleyton Delzell in the background / Photo by Rebecca Harper

The final moments of the game seemed to last an eternity, with UC Berkeley trying to scrape any advantage that they could to regain the lead. But Saint Mary’s defense held strong to the finish. 

The final score of 38–34 is a massive win for the Gaels over their bitter rivals. It’s also the second year in a row that Saint Mary’s has defeated Cal on its own field. 

Next up: The Gaels take on UC Santa Barbara in an away game on April 8 before heading into the quarter finals on April 15. 

Saint Mary's rugby player Josh Allen with the ball in a scrum against UC Berkeley March 25, 2023
Won't be stopped: The Gaels' Josh Allan with the ball / Photo by Rebecca Harper

READ MORE: Recaps of previous games in the 2022–23 season and a look at how this team has its sights set on a national championship.

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