The #9 UCSB men’s rugby club team can book itself a trip to the playoffs with one more victory. Although the Gauchos (11-3 overall) finished second in the Southern California Rugby Football Union Division I to rival Cal Poly, they can make it into the playoffs by beating third-place San Diego State at 7 p.m. this Saturday at Rob Field.
In the past, only the winner of the league has been invited to play in the Division I National Championship Tournament, but because last year SCRFU produced several high-ranking teams, it has been awarded a second seed for this year’s playoffs, which begin on April 21 in Berkeley.
Should the Gauchos triumph, they will be seeded 16th in the playoff bracket and gain the dubious honor of facing #1 Cal on its home field. The Golden Bears have won 21 national titles in their history, and 14 in a row dating back to 1992.
Before they can worry about Cal, however, Santa Barbara needs to make the playoffs the only way it can – by beating the Aztecs.
“I expect both teams to come out with a lot of heart and effort,” junior scrum half Kyle McBride said. “It’s all or nothing for both of us: The winner gets a shot at playing for the championship; the loser goes home.”
Although UCSB has faced the Aztecs once this season, taking a 28-5 victory on January 28, McBride said San Diego State should not be underestimated.
“The score line from that game doesn’t show what a good team they are and what a fight they put up,” McBride said. “They caught some unlucky breaks in that game. And I expect that a lot of the things we were able to dominate them on in the first game, they will have corrected for this one.”
McBride said that playing at home should give the Gauchos an advantage in the match.
“San Diego State plays very well at home; they always get big crowds there, so they’re more comfortable on their home field than they are on ours,” McBride said. “And you can’t knock the Gaucho fans at all; they’re the most spirited fans around.”
Since their last league game, a 40-7 victory over Long Beach State, the Gauchos have kept busy. The team recently traveled to New Zealand to play and train in the home of the world’s best rugby teams.
The Gauchos went 2-1 against three amateur New Zealand clubs and got to train with several former members of the New Zealand All Blacks, who are currently the top-ranked professional team in the world.
“We’ve done everything we can to pick up our game before the National Championship Tournament, to get to the peak level we want to be at,” McBride said.