BYU rugby prepares for Cougar 7s Invitational

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A BYU player avoids a Cal player during the Varsity Cup Championship game in May. BYU rugby is hosting a 10-team tournament on Sept. 26. (Universe Archives)
A BYU player avoids a Cal player during the Varsity Cup Championship game in May. BYU rugby is hosting a 10-team tournament on Sept. 26. (Universe Archives)

The BYU rugby team is preparing to take the field for the first time since May, when the Cougars won their fourth straight (and fifth overall) Division 1AA National Championship, as they host of the Cougar 7s Invitational Tournament.

It just won’t be in the traditional 15-man format.

Cougar 7s will feature a slightly different game. Each team will have seven players on the field that will play two seven-minute halves with a brief intermission. There are two pools with five teams each, with BYU and Dixie State University each fielding two teams (an “A” and “B” team). The top two teams from each pool will go into a playoff, while the bottom three teams from each pool will go into a playoff. Overall, there will be 27 games played over the course of a few hours.

BYU head coach David Smyth said the tournament can put a strain on players.

“There’s more of an emphasis on speed,” he said. “It’s tough. You play for short, explosive periods, and then you might only have 30 minutes of rest. (The players) need to come with a certain level of fitness. Rehydrating and eating the proper foods is key.”

Senior center Jared Whippy said managing the players is crucial.

“(The coaches) make sure everyone gets a run,” Whippy said. “You won’t play the whole game, just seven minutes max. It’s all about management. You don’t want to be gassed for the final game.”

Senior scrum-half Luke Mocke stressed the importance of getting off their feet. He said that the team sits in the shade and rehydrates and they sometimes use ice baths between games to cool off.

“It’s tough,” he said. “You can’t expend much energy.”

The focus is more skills based with the smaller rosters. Coach Smyth said the team had been working on their fitness, skills and patterns to prepare. He also said that while BYU has been dominant over the past few years (61-3 record the past four seasons), the sevens format changes things.

“Every team has a chance with sevens,” Smyth said. “There’s more of a level playing field. So we’ve been working on that in practice.”

Smyth isn’t wrong. The team last hosted a sevens tournament in 2013, where it lost to Air Force 24-22 and was outscored 24-0 in the second half.

Student assistant coach Ishmael Tilialo explained some of the major differences between the 15- and seven-man games.

“Because there are less players on the field, it means there is a lot more space. Fitness is huge, and defensively it is unforgiving. In the 15-man game if you miss a tackle, there’s someone close by to make up for it. But not in sevens,” he said in an e-mail.

Mocke said not to expect many of the tackles that are typical in a 15-man game.

“You avoid contact,” Mocke said. “There will be a few big hits, but you’ll see guys pull up, pass back and set up a new attack. There’s more evasive running because contact takes a lot of energy.”

The team has been holding sevens-specific practices to prepare for the differences in the game. They’ve been focusing on core skills and explosiveness to get ready for the faster pace.

“The team brought in Adriaan Ferris,” Whippy said. “He’s from New Zealand and coaches in California. He’s been training us this week, and he’s really set the standards at a high level. He’s been pushing us.”

Mocke said the training was intense.

The team still has a lot to learn despite having experience in the seven-man game. But coach Smyth is pleased with how quickly his team is picking things up.

“Practice is going very well.” Smyth said. “The players are doing very well. They’re working hard and they’re hungry to play. They’re excited to represent themselves.”

Mocke credits the team’s closeness. He said that many on team have played together since their U-19 years. Because of that closeness and familiarity, he said the team is pretty well prepared.

The team is hoping that preparedness translates to victory.

“The goal is to win,” Whippy said. “Especially since we’re at home. You want to win at home.”

“The guys are really excited,” Mocke said when asked if the team is ready to play. “There’s a great feeling among the boys. It’s a new challenge and a new opportunity to grow. We’re looking forward to that.”

The Cougar 7s Invitational will be held on Sept. 26 at 9 a.m. on Helaman Field. Boise State University, Idaho State University, Salt Lake Community College, Utah Valley University, the University of Utah, Dixie State University and Weber State University will join the Cougars. The final game is expected to begin at 6:30 p.m. The general admission fee is $3 and ROC pass admission $2.

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