By John Nardolillo
Crouch. Bind. Set! The UCI men’s rugby team fell to the Grand Canyon University Antelopes Saturday afternoon by a score of 36-15. The Anteaters could not overcome the loss of three starters due to injury and a relentless Antelope attack.
Starting wing Lloyd Jones led UCI with two tries while flanker Liam O’Conner contributed one of his own.
The Anteaters set the tone on their first possession, marching down the pitch leading to O’Conner’s try. GCU capitalized on sloppy positioning in the following minutes to tie up the game and pull ahead 10-5 on a second try despite a valiant effort from UCI’s goal line defense.
As the conversion attempt bounced off the crossbar, UCI seemed poised to take back the lead. A bone-shattering collision stopped play moments later, leaving a starting prop from UCI bloodied and the starting inside center motionless on the field for about ten minutes. He walked off the pitch on his own but would not return to action.
After both sides regained the field, UCI clearly missed the help of its starters and was caught out of position multiple times over the next few possessions, leading to a easy GCU procession and subsequent try.
Just before the end of the half, Jones finished a breathtaking 50-yard sprint with a diving try to cut the lead to seven at the break, 17-10. Jones seemed shaken up but stayed in the match.
Jones opened the second half with another 50-yard scamper down the sideline, making mincemeat of GCU’s backfield and bringing the Anteaters within two points after the missed conversion.
UCI seemed to be out of gas and quickly surrendered an Antelope try. Another UCI starter also went down and had to be helped off the pitch.
The snaps, crackles and pops of the game were then punctuated by the anguished screams of UCI’s sidelined prop as the trainers struggled to pop his shoulder back into place.
The Antelopes piled two more tries on the deflated Anteaters as the final tally ballooned to 36-15.
The tackling throughout the match looked suspect on UCI’s part, but first-year head coach Ben Reynolds believes better conditioning will put his players in the right spots to make plays.
“We need to get our fitness up. Tackling was just fine, but if you’re not in position, you’re not gonna make those plays,” said Reynolds.
Improved fitness may be the key to the team’s cohesiveness as a unit, and will hopefully prevent injuries down the road.
The Anteaters will need to make some adjustments if they hope to bounce back next Saturday at Long Beach State.