Lauren Rabaino

The Cal Poly club rugby club team goes into its opening-round match-up in the national rugby championships in Albuquerque, N.M. knowing its opponent is going to be tough and disciplined.

After all, the Mustangs are squaring off against Army at 2:30 p.m. today.

“Anytime you play an academy team, you know it is going to be a battle,” Cal Poly head coach Nick Massman said.

The Mustangs plan on using ball-control tactics and controlling the tempo as much as possible against a fast-paced, aggressive Army team.

“We are going to hold the ball as much as possible and really tire them out on defense,” team captain Jesse Dundon said.

Massman calls the strategy “hiding the pill.”

“If we get anxious and let them take the ball, they will make you pay for your mistakes,” Mustangs team president Gabe Escalera said.

For the third-straight year and seventh time in the past eight, Cal Poly (15-3, 8-1 Southern California Rugby Football Union) has made it to the round of 16. The Mustangs got here by defeating Arizona in a play-in game, 36-19.

Cal Poly’s three losses are all to teams in the playoffs this year.

An early trip to Utah resulted in losses to Utah and BYU in a span of less than 20 hours, but the Mustangs called it a great learning experience.

Since that trip in the fall, they’ve rolled, dropping just one game, to conference rival San Diego State, 29-26.

“We had the S.D. State game in our hands – it was very winnable; we just made some mistakes and let it slip out of our grasp,” Massman said.

The Mustangs rely on their team speed as well as their depth and conditioning to wear teams out and run them off the field.

For Escalera and Dundon, as well as three other seniors, this is the last chance to help the Mustangs reach the pinnacle of collegiate rugby.

“We just want to keep the season going,” Escalera said. “This is my last year playing and I don’t want to think about what it’s going to be like to walk away.”

Dundon was a freshman in 2004 when the Mustangs lost to Cal in the championship game. That memory and recent disappointment in the playoffs, where they have been bounced in the second round the past two years, fuels the squad.

With a win, Cal Poly would advance to a Saturday match-up, likely against Cal, which has won 18 of the past 20 national titles. That game would be simulcast on at 3:30 p.m.

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