On Friday, September 29 Arizona State University’s rugby team opened its season with a victory in an exhibition against Northern Arizona University.
The format of the game was a bit different; than the normal two 40-minute halves; the game was divided into three 30-minute periods to give all the players a chance to play. The three periods were treated as three separate games since ASU switched their entire 15 after each period.
The first period saw a backline that included three debutants. Two debutants Collin Miller and Teague Perez played at 9 and 10 respectively. Bennett Ronay played at 13 and partnered Kaden Ellison at 12. The back three were all returning players Graham Ferguson played 15, Evyeni Gavriilidis played left wing and Will Quinn played on the right.
In the forwards, Ethan Walls returned at hooker, Nick Booz packed in at Loosehead and Issiah Fatigoni anchored the scrum at tighthead. In the 2nd row, Carter Carlson made his debut and was partnered by Nick Davies. In the back row, Carlos Nowakowski debuted at blindside flanker, Landon Lahodny was on the openside, and Pearse McNamara played 8.
Drake Zinn and Taniela Sikalu would make their debuts as replacements in the 20th minute.
The scoring began early with Bennett Ronay touching down after making a nearly 50-meter break, a nice pass from his center partner put him into space. Pearse McNamara scored the second try in space on the edge and set up by a long flat pass from Teague Perez. NAU was able to get a try back, a misread off a scrum allowed their 13 to score despite Gavriilidis’s last-ditch attempt to hold him up. The final try of the half was scored by Taniela Sikalu on a quick pick-and-go from close range. All three tries were converted by Graham Ferguson. The first period ended with ASU 21-NAU 5.
The 2nd-period saw ASU switch their entire 15. The front row was all on debut Jack Andrews at loosehead, Koi McLeod at hooker and Lamon Begay at Tighthead. In the 2nd row, Bronson Smith made his debut and partnered with the returning Harmon Crowe. On the blindside Alex Reiman made his debut, Donavan Provenzano played on the openside and Bowie Kaplan packed in at 8.
In the halves, Alex MacDonald returned from a broken hand to play at 9 and Braeden Darling played at 10. The debutant Alex Vargas played at 12 while the more senior Matt Loeffler lined up at 13. The back three were all returners Nate Troxel on the right wing, Adain Brooks at fullback and Dalton Ferguson on the left wing.
The 2nd period had fewer points and was a bit more stop-start than the first period, probably due to inexperience in ASU’s lineup. Fatigue in NAU’s team also played a role in the low scoring and high error rate. Despite that ASU was ferocious in defense and powerful at the set piece. Nate Troxel scored ASU’s only try of the period was set up by some nice footwork and a tidy draw and pass from Matt Loeffler. The try was converted by Darling from wide right. Mid-way through the period, NAU got a try after miscommunication in ASU’s defense led to NAU’s break and the try. The second period finished 7-5 in ASU’s favor.
The final period was a mixture of players who hadn’t played yet and players who had already played. Nick Booz came back on the Loosehead side, TJ Marquez played at hooker and Alex Reiman backed up to play tighthead. Drake Zinn came back for a second stint and partnered with Graecen Furcini, a converted winger, playing in the 2nd row. In the back row, Landon Lahodny was back to play openside, Cameron McDonald played blindside and Kaden Ellison packed down at 8.
In the backs, Louis Quiroz played 9 and Pearse McNamara came in at 10. Sam Trama and Jimi Letchford debuted at 12 and 13 respectively. In the back 3, Christian Islses played fullback with Jesse Liberson on the left and debutant Jose Avila on the right.
ASU would empty their bench and several other players including JP Ellis, Jared Lau, Adedapo Hakeem, and Declan Dean would all make their debuts.
ASU scored both tries in this period. After NAU scuffed a clearance from behind their own try-line ASU shifted the ball wide right and Letchford released Hakeem who scuttled over in the corner to score on debut. The 2nd try was scored by Furcini from a tap penalty, a big step off the left foot put him into a hole in NAU's goal-line defense allowing him to dive over almost untouched. Pearse McNamara went ½ from his conversion attempts. The final period ended ASU 12-NAU 0.
The game provided the coaches an opportunity to see all the players perform in game situations and test different combinations. The first test was passed on the scoreboard ASU won all three periods. The backline looked slick on set pieces and open play. The lineout and scrum both looked clean as well. However, the first pressure test did turn up some bugs in the system. Some of the breakdown work could be better in the second period especially saw a few breakdown turnovers and penalties. The defense could be better as well there were a few missed tackles and the line was a bit unorganized at times too. Lack of support on breaks was also something that could be a bit concerning. Most of those problems will be solved with time as the team spends more time training.
ASU’s next games will be on October 7, they are sending two teams to play in the Flagstaff 10s tournament.