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No Rest for SDSU's Rugby Team : Last Year's Mistake Is This Year's Incentive in Playoffs

April 25, 1986|ROB MIECH

San Diego State rugby Coach Steve Gray called it a mistake.

Last year, he rested 10 starters on his 15-player team in the first round of the Pacific Coast regional playoffs.

It turned out the players had no reason to rest. The Aztecs lost their opener, 26-22, to Chico State and were eliminated from the playoffs.

But the loss didn't change Gray's mind.

"We would have easily won against Chico had I played my first team," Gray said, "but I didn't think we could have won the whole thing by doing that. If I had it all to do over again, I'd play it exactly the same way. Nine times out of 10, with the team I had on the field, we'd have won."

Added Greg Blumenfeld, the SDSU club president: "They (Chico State's players) came at everything and we were holding back. They got a lot of breaks, got things going their way and went up early. We panicked because we weren't used to being behind so early."

SDSU captain Dwayne Parker said last year's 25-5 team, ranked in the nation's top five, was overconfident.

This year SDSU is 22-0-1.

It's playoff time again, and the Aztecs are ranked No. 1 in the nation by Rugby magazine. They will begin regional play Saturday at Tucson.

"We came so close last year," Parker said. "Everybody came into preseason (in October) in shape. We all lifted weights and ran in the summer to get in shape. There's an all-around winning atmosphere, but we're not overconfident."

But the team has not only improved its attitude this year.

"This year we have more depth," Gray said. "We're much better than last year. The guys saw what we needed at that level. It's not just 15 guys who start. We have a squad of 25 players who are very good now. I think we're better than anyone I've seen this year. Anything less than a national championship this year and the guys will be disappointed."

The Aztecs have beaten many of the highly respected teams in the West--Cal, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and UC Santa Barbara.

"Our toughest (opponents) will be in the regionals," Gray said. "Santa Barbara will be there and Berkeley will be in the opposite bracket. It is probable that we will face Berkeley in the final round at Tucson."

Cal beat Maryland, 31-6, in last year's national championship game.

"Berkeley played so much more aggressive," Jim Abonyi, Maryland club president, said. "They didn't rely on their finesse game as much, they didn't have to. They had so much more size."

And much more experience. Rugby has been a part of Golden Bear athletics for 105 years, one of the longest running collegiate rugby programs in the United States. Cal has been national champion for four of the last five years.

But that isn't the only reason the Aztecs' 17-15 win over Cal this season was so important to SDSU. The Aztecs never before had beaten Cal.

"A lot of our players are from Northern California, so they know what the win meant," Gray said. "Santa Barbara beat them badly and we beat Santa Barbara twice, so I don't see any question as to the No. 1 team."

"San Diego State has a very good team," Cal Coach Ned Anderson said. "They have very strong forwards and are strong in many places. The guys have been together for a while. They are definitely the team to shoot for in Arizona."

The regional schedule calls for a match a day for three consecutive days.

"You don't see this type of thing anywhere. It's like playing three straight football games," Gray said. "Plus it's in Tucson and it could be very hot. It could be dangerous."

Just like resting 10 first-team players.

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