(Phoenix, AZ) For the second consecutive week the University of Southern California Trojans Rugby Club made a trip out to Arizona, this time to take on Arizona State University. Unfortunately for the visitors, they came away with a similar result to the previous week, falling 24-47 to the Sun Devils.
The teams knocked-on through the first five minutes of play before ASU scored their first of eight tries. USC failed to find touch on a penalty kick by the narrowest of margins. Sun Devil flanker Joseph Banaga deflected the ball back into play before it crossed the out-of-bounds line. From the bounce, flyhalf Alex Walsh kicked the ball forward. Winger Kyson Jester gathered it and streaked the length of the field for an impressive score. Walsh converted the extras and added a penalty 5 minutes later. 0-10 ASU after 12 minutes.
The Trojans took their only lead of the match within the next few minutes after a couple of quick-strike scores. After Walsh’s penalty kick, ASU failed to clear their zone on the ensuing kick-off; giving USC the ball inside the 22-meter mark. After playing tight through the forwards, scrumhalf Guido Scassellati passed out to flyhalf Adam Bushell, who found center Mitch Suzuki running an outside line that put him through a gap. Suzuki pinned his ears back and raced into the corner for a try. ASU retained possession of the next kick-off but an errant pass from Cody Canann bounced around the midfield, where USC’s Bushell toed it ahead. The Canadian flyer raced past fullback Jester and dotted down under the posts. Bushell converted his own, making it 12-10 USC.
From there, things steadied for ASU while the Trojans’ penalty count continued to climb. Having seen enough infringements around the ruck, the referee finally issued a yellow card to Wing Namdie Ahazie in the 26th minute for not rolling away. Playing up a man, the Sun Devils would cross the line three times within a 10-minute span. Walsh converted one of the tries, taking the score to 12-27 at the half.
Said Head Coach Loa Milford, “The penalties and the set-piece absolutely killed us today. ASU exercised discipline and executed on specific phases of the game where they overmatched us. In open play, we defended very well…made our tackles…but they kept grinding out penalties, kicked-to-touch, and mauling over for multiple scores. We simply didn’t have the answers there.”
In the 45th minute from a USC lineout at midfield, ASU failed to match numbers. From the free kick, Trojans flanker Michael Cesar broke through the line before getting tackled at the 22. The forward pack continued to gain ground through a series of pick-and-drives. Having sucked the defense in toward the tackle area, scrumhalf Scassaletti dished to Bushell, who found outside Center Dimitry Veremeenko running a cutback line. Veremeenko was nearly away if not for an ankle tackle. The forwards went back to work, keeping the ball in tight; once again sucking in defenders. From 5-meters out, Scassaletti popped to Bushell, who crashed over for the try. The USC flyhalf converted again, bringing the Trojans to within striking distance at 19-27.
But that is as close as affairs would get. In the 57th minute, Veremeenko received a yellow card for a high tackle. From the penalty and line-out, the Sun Devils mauled over the line. 19-32 ASU.
On the next kick-off, replacement lock Bryant Young received a yellow card for taking the opposing player out in the air. Now down to 13-men, the Trojans proved powerless to hold the Sun Devils out as Jester notched his second and reserve flanker Oscar OckoMichalak got his first. ASU completed their try-fest when reserve prop Colin Clancy dove over on a driving maul. USC salvaged a last-minute try that culminated in 8-man Luc Desroches dragging a defender over the line for a score. 24-47 Final to ASU.
In summarizing the game, Milford said, “Coming out of the UofA match, we worked on the weaknesses the Wildcats exposed and certainly improved in those areas. However, this ASU match revealed an entirely different set of vulnerabilities that we will address this week and moving forward. As Dominic (Riebli – Director of Rugby) has said from the beginning, each game represents a benchmark for our development. We improved week-over-week but still came away with the same result. However, I don’t think the final score line reflected the entirety of the effort. If I have my data correct, ASU scored 32 points while playing with a one- or two- man advantage. We just killed ourselves with the penalties. Our sinbins were a function of our match fitness and the result of the pressure that the Sun Devils put us under. We’ve simply got to do better.
“This move to PAC Rugby continues to serve as a reminder of just how far we have to go as a program. In relation to last year (playing D1-AA), the precision of execution has increased ten-fold. We obviously expected the massive jump in competition; it really shows the difference not just in terms of overall athleticism, but also the advantages of playing in a varsity-type environment. These programs that we compete against all train most days per week. For us…we’re just transitioning to that model and learning how to make it work for the student-athlete. The growing pains are certainly there but we’re exceptionally grateful to experience them.”
The Trojans will play their first local contest this weekend, serving as the opening match for the UCLA/Utah game. USC kicks-off at 11am this Saturday against University of Utah’s JV squad in Westwood at UCLA’s North Athletic Field.
You can find the official D1A rugby release here