COACHES CORNER: PRESEASON ROUND ONE
Tanner Davison led a balanced attack against the Lobos in the preseason opener.
By Sean Duffy
Sept 11- With the preseason getting underway, I wanted to take some time to give you my take on things, highlight some names, and give our fans, alumni, and parents an inside look in to our program.
First off, I love the preseason. We have Fifteens, Sevens, and our strength and conditioning program, not to mention the on-boarding of usually 30-40 Freshmen and transfers. We're at nearly 75 players right now, and that's a credit to high school coaches around the country and the work they put in to grow the game. About 98% of our current roster played in high school, most of them for five years plus.
New Mexico was a great experience. With the D1A season in the Spring, we use the Fall as a true preseason to get games under our belt, experiment with some things, and to break up the monotony of training. While you won't see our First and many of our Second XV guys, you'll see a lot of our Freshmen and Sophomores that are aiming to work their way up. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only team in the country that does this, and I don't know why. If I'm wrong, I'm sure my coaching colleagues on other campuses will tell me. I see it as a great benefit to our program and a lot of fun for our boys to travel the country. These games have no impact on rankings or standings, even though I saw preseason rankings are out. Those are done for our friends on the East coast who choose to start their seasons in September.
It took us a while to get the balance of things right, but we've hit the right mixture in my opinion by playing teams like we did on Saturday. New Mexico is an up and coming side in D1A, and New Mexico-Highlands is a power in the National Small College division (NSCRO). They were great opponents and we look forward to continuing the series next Fall in Tucson.
Who stepped up? Where to start? It's the very first game in an Arizona jersey for 31 of the 39 who played on Saturday. We'll start with the returners.
Adam Richardson- The man they call "Boomer" has developed physically and in his skills and was dominant at outside center for us on Saturday. He got the gainline every time he touched the rock, and that was huge for us especially on first phase. If you own the gainline on first phase, your options on attack exponentially grow.
Tanner Davison- The converted Scrumhalf managed the game well, showed a good foot, and looked like he'd been playing Flyhalf his whole career. Ran a good attacking shape and used the foot tactically. A strong game from him.
There weren't a ton of returners in this game, and that's no slight to the guys above or the others like Declan Forde, Carter Clarke, etc. It's important to have a little bit of leadership in such a young side and those guys brought it. And Max Richins kept things light as he always does while putting in a hard day's work in the front row.
In the Freshmen, it's hard to make sweeping statements after one preseason game, but a few guys showed the world what we as a staff have been seeing in training for a few weeks now.
Brendon Paulsen- Two tries on debut. That's a good day, and both were thoughtful, smart decisions. We have a job to fill with Matt Rogers' graduation, and the Scrumhalf from the UK has emerged as a contender. We're not like some schools. When you come to Arizona you compete right away. Always have been like that, always will be.
James Rivers- Another English product like Paulsen, with a 6'6" frame that can move well. We've had some really special Locks here during my time like Sean Coleman, Trevor Jensen, Bronson Teles, and he could be the next.
King Matu- I admit we are figuring out what to do with him, but man it's fun while we do. He could feasibly play everything in the Forwards besides Hooker. A Number Eight in high school, he played Lock on Saturday and continued to show a great attacking mindset with a real humble, workmanlike approach. Being 6'3" 230 helps. He's got a bright future wherever he ends up in the Forwards.
What's next: From here, the guys will go really three separate ways. Some will go back in to Sevens, others will move to our top Fifteens group that's prepping for January, while others will continue to train with an eye on preseason matches against NAU (Sept 21) and GCU (Oct 26) coming up.
We'll give a lot of guys playing opportunities, while also giving our staff some opportunities to lead. On Saturday my assistant Pat Coco led one team while Jarrett Bunnin led another. They did a fantastic job and between those two and the talent of guys like Anthony Spencer and newcomer Camden McGregor, we have a group of dynamic, open-minded coaches that put up with me and more importantly give everything they have to help these players grow. I got the best coaching staff in the country in a sport where many programs' "staff" is one person. We consider ourselves lucky to have each of these guys in addition to our fantastic strength & conditioning staff and medical staff.
2020 Preview: We have a couple of big announcements coming up, notably our team captains and the much anticipated 2020 tour destination. We've brought back the tradition of touring, traveling to Argentina two years ago, and it's another thing that separates us from others. I learned from one of the best in Lee Kelly that Rugby is a game that can take you all over the world. We're passing that message on to the future generations and this is going to be a special experience in March for those that go on this trip.
Player to Watch: For those that come to see our 3rd XV vs Northern Arizona, you're going to see a very young but hungry side. For me, Ryan Sullivan has been one of the finds of the Fall. He has a good frame, some pace, and he only played one season in high school after playing other sports in Connecticut. We have a rich history of developing guys like this in to real players that goes back decades. Keep an eye on him in the centers.
Quote of the Week: "Wait we lost an hour?"-75% of the Freshmen on the bus when we crossed in to New Mexico.
See you all in a couple weeks. Thanks for reading and supporting us.
In Flynn I Trust.