One week after losing a close game at home against fourth-ranked Utah, the UCSB men’s rugby team opened league play in style, defeating UC San Diego 53-18 Saturday at Rob Field. In a game that was closer than the score would indicate, the Gauchos scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes while San Diego grew visibly tired on the field.
“The key was our fitness, really; we were able to outlast them on the field and score three tries in the last fifteen minutes,” UCSB Head Coach Kevin Battle said. “The game was pretty close for awhile, but they seemed to run out of gas, and we were able to pull away.”
Santa Barbara jumped out ahead immediately, scoring a try on its opening drive and converting the extra point attempt for a 7-0 lead. But the Tritons proved able to answer back initially, tying the game with a try on their first drive of the game. Poor communication and ball handling plagued both sides, but UCSB’s superior conditioning began to assert itself as the Gauchos scored on most of their drives.
“We were riding off the success of last weekend’s game against Utah,” junior outside wing Kyle McBride said. “Even though it was a loss, it was a very good game against a very good team, and we carried over the momentum into this game.”
After a difficult preseason in which the Gauchos played two teams ranked in the nation’s top ten, UCSB was eager to get into its league schedule. For the second year in a row, the Gauchos dominated the Tritons in their league opener.
“If you match up player to player, we had a little more size and experience on our side of the ball,” McBride said.
Battle said that he was generally pleased with his team’s performance on Saturday, although he would have liked to see San Diego held to fewer points.
“Our defense was a little spotty at times; we shouldn’t have let them score 18 on us,” Battle said. “But our offense played well. They’re a program that’s struggled a bit over the last few years; although they are improving, we were definitely the better team on the field.”
A year after making it to the Elite Eight of the Division I playoffs, the Gauchos are eager to go further this year. Several key starters from last year’s team have graduated, but the Gauchos feel that the depth of their squad will allow them to pick up right where they left off.
“We will definitely miss some of the guys from last year’s team, but we have guys ready to step up and fill right in,” Battle said. “This season people are going to see the depth of this program.”
With the league opener behind them, the Gauchos are looking ahead to next week’s game against San Diego State, which will be held at Rob Field on either Friday or Saturday pending the final schedule.