By David Rasmussen
BYU”s rugby squad heads to California this weekend to compete for the USA Rugby Collegiate championship, with the Cougars just two wins away from claiming a national title.
The Cougars look to improve on last year”s semifinal exit as they match up with Penn State on Friday, May 5, 2006 at 4:00 p.m. in the tournament”s semifinal round. In the other bracket, Utah faces defending national champion Cal-Berkeley at 2:00 p.m. The games will be played at Stanford University.
“We”re very excited to get down there and get into the games,” head coach David Smyth said. “We”re not under any illusion of what lies ahead. We know that it”s going to take a supreme effort.
“We feel that if we really put that effort in and keep going the way that we”re going, we”ll be as competitive as anybody down there.”
After completing an undefeated regular season, BYU has cruised through the early rounds of the playoffs, defeating Chico State, Wyoming and Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo by a combined score of 179-17. Those games followed the trend set by the Cougars this year, as they have beaten their opponents by an average score of 58-6.
In the final four, BYU will face a familiar opponent in Penn State. BYU has matched up with Penn State twice in the past year, with the Cougars prevailing in both meetings.
“They”re big, and they”re strong.” Smyth said of the Nittany Lions. “They”ve got a real good scrumhalf, who”s their field general. They have a lot of experience being in a final four.”
In last season”s playoffs, BYU outfought a tough Nittany Lions squad 44-35. More recently, the Cougars trounced Penn State 42-10 at the Red Rock Tournament in February. But Smyth feels that the past meetings will have little bearing on Friday”s contest.
“That was two months ago,” he said. “It was right at the start of the season for both of us. They”ve obviously progressed quite dramatically.
“The other variable that you throw in there is that this is the playoffs. Somebody has to lose; nobody wants to lose. And that can make either team really step it up a notch.”
BYU is well prepared for the challenge, led by three time All-American and team captain Salesi Sika. Sika said he believes this year”s team has what it takes to bring home the trophy.
“I honestly feel pretty confident based on our performances the last couple weeks,” Sika said. “I can honestly say that we”ll go all the way.”
All speculation aside, Smyth said the Cougars are ready.
“If a team executes better than we do, or is better prepared in some way, than that”s not going to be good,” Smyth said. “But I think right now we”re pretty focused and keyed in on what we need to do to be successful.”
In Friday”s early game, the University of Utah and the Golden Bears of Cal-Berkeley will battle in a rematch of last year”s national championship game, when Cal took home the title with a 44-7 win. The winners of Friday”s semifinal matches will meet at 4:00 p.m. at Stueber Rugby Stadium on Saturday to determine the national champion.