The Bruins will have a chance to hoist their first-ever Pete Dawkins Trophy this weekend.
UCLA men’s club rugby will face three opponents in pool play of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia this weekend. The Bruins are in Pool E along with Arkansas State, Delaware and Virginia Tech.
In 2013 and 2014, UCLA lost in the semifinals, and fell to rival California in the 2016 final. Coach Scott Stewart said the Bruins will face the challenge of new opposition in this year’s edition of the tournament.
“The biggest challenge is that there are some unknowns,” Stewart said. “Delaware is an unknown. Arkansas State and Virginia Tech we know are very physical teams that have had a lot of success. The last time we played Arkansas State they beat us, so we have our work cut out for us. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
All three other teams in UCLA’s pool have had some experience with the CRC. Arkansas reached the quarterfinals in its last three appearances at the tournament. Delaware is in the main draw of the CRC for its second consecutive year. Virginia Tech made the championship the past five years, and is back this year for its sixth appearance following a loss in the semifinals last year.
The Bruins finished the season with a record of 18-8-1. UCLA has a group of freshmen who have played at the highest youth levels. Center Benjamin Broselle and scrumhalf Eric Naposki-Abdalah are part of the USA men’s sevens team training squad.
“They’ve been a welcome addition this season and are both very dangerous athletes,” Stewart said. “They’ve been training at a very high level this year.”
Senior center Niall Barry is leading the team after his brother Cian graduated. Niall Barry was a part of the squad that made the CRC final two years ago and Stewart said he will look to a combination of the young talent and experience to lead the rest of the squad this weekend.
“(Niall Barry’s) got a long legacy,” Stewart said. “We’re looking for him and those younger guys to set the platform and lead so that the others can really focus on their own game and physicality.”
Stewart said defense takes priority in how the Bruins play. The coach said they aim to counterattack their opponents after holding a strong defensive line.
“We like to use our defense as an offensive weapon so we start there and we make sure we’ve got our own half of the field and our side of the ball taken care of,” Stewart said. “When we see an opportunity, we try to work the opposition through skill and passing. We’ve got a lot of powerful and fast athletes.”
UCLA will have an opportunity to improve on last year’s result in the championship, where it was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Indiana.
“We’ve enjoyed the season,” Stewart said. “It’s been a definite upswing from last year with the new players that we have acquired. This is a prestigious tournament and one that we have enjoyed participating in and have had success in the last five years. We want to continue that tradition with a big showing this weekend.”