Battling for Wins on Two Different Fields

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UC Santa Cruz men’s rugby was busy last weekend. With the squad split up, some at home to play the University of the Pacific (UOP) Tigers and others at Stanford to play in a tournament, the Slugs focused less on the results and more on how the teams can improve going forward as a whole.

The rugby team was not divided by the “A-side” or “B -side,” but rather by the style of play best suited for the players. A 15’s game was played against the Tigers and a 7’s game was played at the Stanford tournament. A 15’s game has 30 total players on the field at once and has two 40-minute halves, while a 7’s team has 14 players total and two 7-minute halves.

Senior Kevin Nguyen said the Slugs sent their smaller and faster players to the 7’s tournament, because their speed is more utilized in that style of play. The 7’s Slugs went 1-4, beating San Francisco State in the final game of the day.

“It’s a very different game strategically and we practiced for a week beforehand, but for most of us it was our first time playing 7’s,” Nguyen said. “It’s just a lot faster and any error in positioning is quickly exploited, and it’s a lot less forgiving and faster overall. We learned a lot and we definitely got better as the day progressed.”

UCSC and UOP forwards formed a scrum to fight for possession during their game last weekend. Photo by Daniela Ruiz
UCSC and UOP forwards formed a scrum to fight for possession during their game last weekend. Photo by Daniela Ruiz.

Nguyen called the tournament a learning experience, echoing coach Robbie Bellue’s attitude toward the home game against the Tigers.

“We came to win and we fell short of that goal, so we were a little disappointed there,” Bellue said, commenting on the 14-14 tie against the Tigers. “It highlighted things we need to work on, such as basic mechanics. Fitness is also something we need to have on board if we’re going to win.”

Freshman scrum-half Titan Rovera said he and his fellow UCSC forwards kept the Tigers’ scrummers without a win in the second period.

However, later in the match they “started to lose shape” because of the insertion of newer players with less experience.

“Our scrum was incredible,” Rovera said. “In the second period we were pushing them back and driving them off all of their scrums. It’s good everyone got a chance to play, because we got to see where we need to improve.”

Dustin Thiels of the Slugs and a UOP player competed for possession during a lineout. Photo by Daniela Ruiz.
Dustin Thiels of the Slugs and a UOP player competed for possession during a lineout. Photo by Daniela Ruiz.

While an exciting interception by Matt Nunez rekindled a sense of urgency for himself and his teammates in the end of the first half, it failed to shift the game’s momentum enough to carry the Slugs to victory. However, with 15 players at the 7’s tournament, a difference in play was inevitable.

“It wasn’t an exact representation of our team,” Bellue said, “but we still should’ve played better.”

Bellue said UOP’s storied program reflected the Tigers’ style of play. The Tigers did not hesitate to flaunt their program’s tradition, as they stiff-armed, bulldozed and spun around Slug defenders with overpowering aggression.

Even though Nunez compares rugby to the likes of football for its physicality and to soccer for its non-stop pace, Bellue finds rugby to be peerless when compared to other sports.

“Rugby is tough to compare to any sport,” Bellue said. “You could compare it to football, but it’s free-flowing and constantly adapting and aligning based on what the field gives you. In that respect, it’s not like football, because there’s no stop-start unless there is an injury. It is closer to war than any other sport.”


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