Rugby team fends off Ute charge

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    By Douglas Strother

    After a formidable start, it appeared the BYU rugby team was headed for a big win over archrival Utah, but managed to only hold on 27-19, as the Utes increased the intensity in the second half.

    “Bad decision making, lacking concentration and complacency were the main things that let us down,” said BYU head coach Jared Akenhead. “We let them back in the game and lost the plot a little bit in the end. We were lucky to get away with a win.”

    Right from the get-go, the Cougars threatened the Utes line, but because of poor handling and tenacious Utes defense, many try-scoring opportunities were lost.

    The Cougars finally converted pressure to points in the 15th minute after spreading the ball to the speedy backs. The ball was spun out to outside center Andy Ashby who faked the pass to his left wing then took the gap inside to score the game”s first try. A missed conversion by full back Paul Heapy left the score at 5-0.

    The Cougars” lead increased seconds later after a kick and chase. Ashby gathered the ball and found blindside flanker Dan Bennion inside who ran 30 meters to score. Heapy converted the try to make it 12-0.

    With the Cougars” scrum driving the Utes backwards and the backs getting quality ball outside, it looked like the Cougars would run away with the game in the first 20 minutes. The Utes” never-say-die attitude ensured this would not happen as they kept within striking distance throughout the game.

    The Utes weren”t given many opportunities to score, but when they did, they made the Cougars pay. Late in the first half Utah strung phases together, and after several bursts at the line, the Utes” outside center went in for a well-earned try.

    “If you let Utah hang around, they are very opportunistic,” said BYU assistant coach Kendall Erickson. “In the first half, there were two times they got close (to the Cougars” line). They scored once and almost scored again.”

    The Cougars went into the break with a slim 12-5 lead. Miscommunication and poor handling prevented the lead from being bigger.

    Much of the early second half consisted of tactical kicking as both teams looked to play the game in the opposition”s territory. Heapy chanced his arm from 80 meters out after a receiving a punt from a Utes” player. He linked up with right wing John Blaser who sped down the touchline chip kicking the ball to turn the defense around.

    A mistake from the Utes” winger allowed a Cougar to re-gather the ball and pass it out to hooker Clayton Leonard. After a 20 meter burst, Leonard went down in the tackle, but No. 8 Mike Poelman was on hand to pick up the ball and dive over for the try, taking the lead back to 12 points.

    The Utes hit straight back thanks to sustained attack on the Cougars” line. With the help of his teammates, a Utes” player drove over the line to score.

    Inside center Tua Fale made sure the Utes” celebrations were short lived after he finished a movement down the touchline to score in the left-hand corner, making it 22-12.

    Just when the Cougars thought they were out of the woods, the game was turned on its head when the Utes” full back intercepted a pass 25 meters from the Cougars” line.

    He went in untouched, bringing his team within three points.

    The once solid Cougars” scrum started to wilt, and the backs looked uncertain in their ability to run the ball. The Utes” pounded away, attempting to produce an unlikely victory, but the Cougars” defense managed to hold on.

    Against the run of play, the Cougars scored on the stroke of full time after the Utes coughed the ball up close to its own line. Blaser chased down his own kick and found the captain, Pierre Fourie, who scored the Cougars” fifth try of the afternoon.

    “Man for man, we were better than them, more fitter than them and more talented than them,” Poelman said. “But mentally we were a little inconsistent, and hopefully with more game time, we can improve on that.”

    Although any victory over Utah is satisfying, Fourie said he knows the Cougars still have much to learn.

    “You could definitely see at the end the lack of experience come through,” Fourie said. “But I think this is a good building block for the next few games, and especially the next semester.”

    Akenhead said his team could learn a lot from the way the Utes played.

    “With Utah, if you give them a little sniff with a try here or there, they feed off that,” he said. “What we do is we score a try then think the game is won. The difference is they use that (scoring a try) and build, while we fall away from the positive.”

    The Cougars don”t play again until Nov. 7 when they travel to Texas to play Texas A&M, New Mexico and Colorado in the space of two days.

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