The University of Arizona pulled off a slight shock in the USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship, upending never-beaten Life University 19-12 to book a place in the tournament final Sunday at PPL Park in Philadelphia.
Arizona did the job with superb team defense and an intelligent game plan that, for the most part, never let Life get rolling.
“One of the things we wanted to do was dominate possession,” said Arizona Coach Dave Sitton. “I don’t care how long you defend, it will wear you down eventually. We wanted to deny them the ball as much as we could.”
And Arizona did just that.
Arizona kept the ball for a long period and finally worked it downfield, with leading try-scorer Brett Thompson bursting through for a long break. He looked for his support, and got so distracted he dropped the ball. Scrum to Life, but Arizona turned the tables, and after winning the ball back ran a nifty switch move to put Thompson in under the posts. 7-0 Arizona.
Life wanted to use their big men to open up space for Darrian Woodson out wide. It worked well. Woodson made a break, but some excellent defense from Peter Tiberio forced a penalty, and Arizona kicked to touch.
That tactic proved to be their undoing, as the much taller Life forwards stole the throw and sent Woodson running again. He was caught, but the ball was spun back to Cam Dolan, who raced to the corner. 7-5 Arizona still led.
That was halftime, in an active game with few stoppages. In the second half, Arizona wanted to pressure Life, but didn’t have the height to challenge the kick, so they kicked deep.
“We knew if we trusted our defense and our team approach to defense, and worked hard, we could force a turnover,” said Jack Arnold. And that’s what happened. Big Wildcat hits got Arizona the ball and Tiberio did superbly to use his support and draw defensive attention. On his third touch of the movement the USA player cut through and then fed Arnold for the try in the corner and the 12-5 lead.
“Last year I was way too selfish as a player,” said Tiberio. “So this year I was determined to use the many weapons we have. We have so many good players, my role was to find the space and see the opportunities and put them into that space. Why wouldn’t I do that?”
Tiberio’s biggest contribution was on defense, where he made several key tackles in a game where Arizona overall “played our best team defense, no doubt,” said Arnold.
A half-break by Craig Samoy got Arizona started again and quick recycle got the ball to Tiberio, who burst through two tacklers and twisted over for a key try. 19-7.
Life had time, though, and a series of penalties against Arizona, followed by a superbly executed switch move put Woodson in under the posts. Colton Cariaga took about three seconds to kick the conversion to give his team time to score again, but the Arizona defense was excellent, and they closed out the game.
“I am so proud of these boys,” said Sitton. “I am proud of the coaches – Emil Signes and Chris Kron and I are three thirds of a whole that work differently but think the same way. It’s been great. This was a plan put into place 364 days and 23 hours ago after we lost that quarterfinal last year.”
Arizona’s game plan was excellent, and they did the job. Exhausted, they now have one more hill to climb, in the final.
Tries: Thompson, Arnold, Tiberio
Convs: Tiberio 2
Tries: Dolan, Woodson