By Douglas Strother
The squad has been announced, the schedule has been set, and now, the BYU rugby team is rearing to go.
There are some new faces, but it will be the players returning from last season who will hold the key to the Cougars” success.
Among those returning is forward captain Mike Poelman, a junior from Salt Lake City.
“We have lost our hooker and number 8 from last year, but we are pleased to have our openside flanker Benny (Dan Bennion) who does a great job of stealing the ball from the opposition,” Poelman said.
Head coach Jared Akenhead already knew he would be going into the season without the services of several key players. Outside center Salesi Sika, will be playing for the United States at the Rugby World Cup next month, scrumhalf Kimball Kjar graduated last semester, and flyhalf Kalem Nordstrom returned home to New Zealand.
The remainder of the squad will be announced Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003. Akenhead has also given those who do not make the final cut the option of training with the team.
“I want all of the guys, even those who didn”t make the team, to learn how to play the game of rugby,” he said.
With the opening game of the season against Idaho State University just days away, the Cougars have been kept busy practicing scrummaging, line outs, rucking, mauling and tackling.
Forward coach Kendall Erickson said he is pleased with the progress being made, but admits there is a lot to learn.
“It is still early,” Erickson said. “Give us time, and we will be a finely tuned machine.”
Despite not having a lot of time to prepare, the Cougars have the luxury of playing against much weaker opposition in the first four games of the season.
They play Idaho State, UVSC, Weber State, and Utah State. Last season they beat these teams by a combined score of 254-33.
“For our early games we will play most of our JV (Junior Varsity) guys, and maybe put in a few of our starters to help them out,” Erickson said. “We shouldn”t have any problems in September and early October.”
The real test for the Cougars will come on Oct. 25 when they travel to Salt Lake City to play arch rival University of Utah who were runners-up in the National Tournament two years ago. They were also the only team to beat BYU last season.
“We just have to beat Utah,” Erickson said. “There are no excuses.” The schedule doesn”t get much easier for the Cougars after the Utah game as they will be participating in the Texas A & M Tournament from Nov. 6-9. They finish the fall season with a tournament in Las Vegas on Nov. 15.