By Marianne Payne | April 2016 



The Saint Mary’s College Men’s Rugby team is back from its tour of New Zealand, energized and battle ready for final games of the 2016 regular season. In the first of two remaining games, the Gaels defeated Santa Clara University by a score of 100 – 24 last Saturday (April 2) in Santa Clara. The Gaels will be back on their home turf next Saturday (April 9) when they play top rated Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at 1:00 p.m.


Saint Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien credits a strong performance in the Santa Clara game to an improved lineout and scrum as well as efficient pass-catch. He chalked this improvement up to most of the roster now being healthy, a few players taking charge of their positions, and the team’s recent trip to New Zealand. “People look at teams like Saint Mary’s and expect a sort of linear progression, but it’s not like that,” he said. “We’re moving players around and finding the right combination. We’ve gone on trips before and have come back a different team.” In previous years the team has toured in Italy (2013) and last year a trip to the East Coast with match play at Dartmouth and West Point. “This year it was New Zealand and I think we are a little different – refreshed,” said O’Brien.


In New Zealand, the Gaels played some of the country’s oldest and most prestigious clubs, holding their own in a country where the sport of rugby dominates in all aspects of the culture. Peteone Rugby Club Captain, addressing the team after their 61 to 0 loss to the Gaels, said “You have broken all of the stereotypes we had about American rugby players.” Club representative and former All Black Captain Andy Leslie spoke to the team and said that if any one of them wanted to return and play with the Petone Club they would have a place.


Petone Rugby Club in Lower Hutt near Wellington is over 130 years old and to-date has produced 30 All Blacks and 16 NZ Maori representatives, all memorialized on their club house wall. The post match dinner was a chance to trade jerseys but also a chance to trade a few stories. One of club’s lifetime members noted he had played with former Saint Mary’s Coach Pat Vincent before he announced that he was leaving to take rugby to America. “That he did,” he remarked.


Gael Rugby alumni Al Heeg sent a nostalgic note to the team prior to their departure, “…what a wonderful opportunity to represent Saint Mary’s Rugby in New Zealand, where Pat Vincent’s spirit…and his pride in his players has been passed down to you.” Pat Vincent, legendary Coach of the Gaels in the 70s and 80s, is memorialized for his play as Scrumhalf and Captain of the All Black Team in 1956. At age 30, he led the All Blacks in their first ever series win against the South African Springboks. The team visited the famous New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North where they had the opportunity to see one of the country’s tributes to Pat Vincent firsthand. Said one player to the museum tour guide, “We play on the Pat Vincent field at home almost every day and hear stories about him all the time. Now I feel as though we’re meeting him.”


The Gaels first match with Ngongotaha in Rotoroua, was publicized in local newspapers and drew a crowd of several hundred despite torrential rainfall throughout the game. The Gael’s 36-22 win seemed unexpected. Their final match was a loss to the Christchurch High School Old Boys RFC, a physical and competitive match as their opponents were playing pre-season and vying for position placements for their club. The Christchurch team was from Pat Vincent’s old school team, where he had played and then coached and taught for more than 20 years.


While on tour, the Gaels also had a chance to fine tune skills with workout sessions with Jim Love at the New Zealand Sports Academy in Rotorua and with Wellington Hurricanes U20 Coach Darren Larsen – both internationally renowned coaches. They also had the chance to meet with Brian “Aussie” McLean, the New Zealand All Blacks defense coach for a lively Q&A session. Says Coach Johnny Everett who accompanied the team to New Zealand, “Overall we played well. We worked on getting quick ball and handling the lineouts and the contact zone. It was a good bonding experience as well. It’s a great way to re-energize for the rest of the season,” said Everett.


This Saturday’s Gael match against Cal Poly will be for the D1A California Conference title and will determine how the teams are seeded for the DIA playoffs. Following the game this weekend there will be three consecutive weekends of games that will lead to the DIA Championship final game to be hosted at the Saint Mary’s College home stadium on May 7th.