ASU beat Mira Costa 38-25 on Saturday, March 4th. This puts their record for the season at 1-1.
In the forwards, No.8 Austin Krause returned from injury giving a boost to ASU. Cole Macias and Pearse McNamara flanked the ASU scrum, Macias at openside and McNamara at blindside. Krause’s return would push Sean Martin back into the second row to partner Nick Davies. This in turn meant that McCade Siegel would move back into the front row at loosehead. Isaiah Fatigoni maintained his place at tighthead while at hooker Robert Gacula took the place of Alex Pitton
In the backs, the returning Cooper Baines started on the left wing, with Kai Lyles on the right wing and Devin Rivet at fullback. In midfield, Josh Lesley stayed at outside center and partnered Kaden Ellison in his preferred position of inside center. In the halves, Joey Bridgman took over at fly-half while Jacob Hurl played scrum-half.
Sean Martin opened the ASU scoring early from a peel around the front of the lineout. Another line-out peel, this time to the tail of the lineout, gave Martin space and backs to run at, he fended three of them before setting a ruck roughly middle of the field; a miss-pass from Joey Bridgeman and quick hands from Josh Lesley put Devin Rivet over for ASU’s the second try.
Rivet would get his second try of the day set up by Joey Bridgeman's kick-in behind Mira Costa's defensive line.
The third try was finished by Jacob Hurl supporting through the middle after a 50 meters worth of beautiful lead-up play from Kai Lyles and Rivet. Rivet used his pace to get to the outside before straightening down the touchline and finding Lyles with the inside ball, Lyles drew two defenders before finding Hurl who scored under the posts.
Mira Costa opened their scoring from a big miss-pass after a tap penalty inside ASU’s 22, giving their 15 surprised ASU defenders to run at. The second try came just before halftime, their monstrous tight head burrowing over from a short pick-and-go.
The game was hugely physical with big hits and ferocious rucking from both sides. ASU would lose fly-half Joey Bridgeman and inside-center Kaden Ellison in quick succession, to shoulder and rib injuries respectively. This forced some shuffling in the backline Matt Loeffler replaced Bridgman at fly-half, and Evyeni Gavriilidis came on for Ellison. Lesley moved to inside center and Cooper Banes shifted to outside center with Gavriilidis slotting in on the wing.
ASU added some 2nd half-scoring for good measure. Robert Gacula scored ASU’s fourth try right from the second-half kickoff good line speed and a loose pass from Mira Costa's 10 gave him the simple task of scooping up the ball and running under the posts, unopposed, from about 30-meters out.
Martin added his second and ASU's fifth try, a 50-meter solo effort. The backs went wide from a lineout with the Rivet making meters down the right-hand touchline before being tackled by the fullback on halfway. From the breakdown Loeffler gave Martin the ball, the Mira Costa scrum half shooting out of the line gave Martin space to step into, make the break and score.
A combination of poor backfield positioning and a lack of rugby nous led to a scrum inside ASU’s 5-meter line. A simple crash ball from Mira Costa’s fullback gave them their third try. Another penalty inside ASU's half gave Mira Costa the field position to score their fourth try after a series of close-range pick-and-goes. However, the late flurry was too little too late, and ASU was able to hold on for the win.
This was a very good performance from ASU all areas of the game were much improved. The defense in particular, despite shipping 25 points, was far better than in the first game. The line speed and tackling problems that were present in the first game are now things of the past. While in attack the structures were run well leading to plenty of line breaks and multiple tries. The key to unlocking this backline is finding some way of disorganizing the defense and breaking the field. The pace of the back three and the ball-playing of the centers will create and finish the chances against a disorganized defense.
There were a few negatives mostly around the breakdown ASU was called a few times for going off feet in attack. While in defense they were called for not supporting their body weight while jackling. However, that can be put down to this particular referee being very quick on the whistle for any breakdown infractions.
All-in-all is ASU in a good place to begin its 3-week series of games in California. Their first game was on March 18th at UCSD will bring you that report soon