UCLA Advances to National Playoffs
By James Faccinto
The UCLA rugby Bruins made history Saturday. For the first time in decades the Bruins clinched a spot in the national playoffs with a come from behind 24-19 victory over Cal Poly San Louis Obispo. The hard-fought victory clinched the Bruins the 16th seed in the National Playoffs, which will take them to Atlanta, Georgia to play the two seed, California, in the first round. The game, played in front of an uproarious home crowd, was fast paced and ferocious. Each team had everything to win and nothing to lose, and they played like it. UCLA showed improved tackling and was lead by excellent play from the back three all day. It only took two minutes for wing Taylor Bashara to use his surprising pace to make a fifty-meter break and score, asserting UCLA’s dominance both on the scoreboard and in attack. Fullback Matt Finzen, playing his last home game as a Bruin, converted the kick. "It was big for us to get the upper hand early, but Cal Poly kept fighting back," Bashara said. "But I just did what I do best- I got the ball and ran real fast." Poly did indeed fight back, and despite sustained, tenacious goal line defense, were able to dot down an unconverted try in the twenty-second minute. Score 7-5. Only eight minutes later, however, the ever-present Bashara struck again for the Bruins. After receiving a high kick, Finzen returned with another high kick that the Poly back three failed to field. The ball bounced on the ground and bounced up in the air. The fleet footed Bashara was on the chase, and was able to slip behind the Poly wing and fullback and pick up the loose ball. He ran forty meters with no one in front of him into the try zone. The score went unconverted. Score 12-5 at Halftime. "On one hand, we had scored twice," said shifty wing Willy Rudman of his feelings at halftime. "But on the other hand I was uneasy because Cal Poly was dangerous like they always are. All credit to those guys. They’re a class act." Dangerous they were as the second half began. After only five minutes the Mustangs scored a try that was converted, tying the score. Things became tenser both on the field and in the crowd, and the next twenty minutes or so was a rough and tumble, no holds barred display of collegiate rugby. The hits were majestic, the attacks flowing, and the pressure building. In the seventieth minute Cal Poly scored once more and converted, making the score 19-12. With ten minutes left in the game, UCLA stood up and decided to take the game back. "It was our field, our crowd, our day," said fullback Matt Finzen. "There was no way we were going to lose." Within the last ten tense, exciting minutes of the game the Bruins scored again through Pierre Mays, the sterling prop forward who has lead the Bruin pack all year, which brought the game to 17-19 in favor of Cal Poly. The Bruins needed one more score of any kind. Three points separated them from a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. With time waning quickly, Liam Devoy was subbed into the centers for Stanton Sharpe and immediately made an impact. In the seventy-eighth minute Fullback Matt Finzen made a half-break and offloaded to a supporting Devoy, who breezed over the line and scored the try that would take the Bruins to Atlanta. The celebration was raucous, but there was still rugby to play; there was still a try zone to be defended. Poly did not give up by any means. With a few seconds on the clock the Poly flanker broke through UCLA’s defense. With the weak side wing up, there was only Finzen and Bashara for him to beat. The crowd rose to their feet. The flanker trumped forward, looking dangerous. Finzen and Bashara made a season-saving tackle, however, and drew a penalty to the Bruins. Captain Pierce Cooley kicked the ball out of play, the referee blew his whistle to end the game, and the celebrations began. The Bruins were in the Sweet Sixteen. "What a feeling," said Pierce Cooley, captain and starting scrumhalf. "What a feeling." The Bruins will fly to Georgia on the 16th to play Cal, the number two seed, at Life University.