ASU rugby finishes season on strong note despite loss to Mexican National Team

The Sun Devils showed up to compete Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic.

ASU rugby finished their season with a hard-fought battle against the Mexican National Team on Saturday, but came out on the losing end, 30-23.

Despite the loss, head coach Gary Lane said he thought the team played well, and competed impressively against one of the top 50 teams in the world.

The Sun Devils started out strong, but toward the end of the first half let up on the aggressive play they had began with. When they came out in the second half however, they went full-force, testing the Mexican National Team and displaying their improvements in lineouts, ball control and overall speed - basics that Lane's squad has been struggling with this year.

"We've been working on that all season," Lane said. "These guys have worked extremely hard and gotten better every game."

The Mexican National Team put the first points on the board with two penalty kicks, but it was ASU that scored the first try of the game. That would be the only points they scored in the first, as a couple mistakes set them back and let the Mexican National Team pull ahead 20-5 going into the half.

At halftime, Lane made necessary adjustments to keep the Sun Devils in the game.

"We basically had to set our backs a little further back, to watch for the long kicks, and also our line speed on defense needed to increase," Lane said. "At the end of the first half we rested on our laurels a bit, so we made that adjustment at halftime."

In the second half, ASU came out and held possession for around 10 minutes, threatening at the try line for most of the time, then finally getting it through to cut the Mexican National Team's lead to 14. Twelve minutes later, ASU would again get the ball across to make the score 27-18 with 12 minutes left in the game. 

With two minutes left, ASU scored their fourth try of the match, but time would run out before they were able to make any more attempts at the try line.

Right wing Alex Sandstrom, fullback Kevin Woo and flanker Matt Brennan all scored tries, while a penalty kick was made by flyhalf Alex Walsh.

The match was daunting to come into for Lane, but he emphasized how proud he was of the way his guys stepped up and played.

For inside center Pete Akerele-Ale, the shot at playing the national team was thrilling.

"It was special for us, we had a rough start at the beginning of the season, missing a couple players, but we slowly worked through that," Akerele-Ale said. "We're a really young side, we had several sophomores starting, and lots of guys coming up in the program who have really gained a lot skill through out the year. I pay that towards the coaches who have committed their time to us, getting us to the level we were able to compete at tonight."

Flanker Bailey Stringer has been a standout for the Sun Devils this season. He's had a dream of playing against an international team since he started playing rugby at the age of five, he said.

"It was absolutely fantastic, it was an unreal experience for me," Stringer said. "I had the time of my life and I couldn't have been prouder of the boys, it's all a team effort."

Stringer said he sees the impressive performance by the Sun Devils against the Mexican National Team carrying into next season, and is excited to see the success the next few years will bring to the ASU club.

Lane said he sees the same potential, and is glad the event was able to give the Sun Devils some exposure as they head into next season.

 "We came back in the second half and we made this game a real game and I don't think it was through a lack of effort," Lane said. "This team is together for the next three years and we just came close to beating a national team, I'm not too unhappy."

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