The BYU men’s rugby team won all but one game last season. That loss came by way of the California Golden Bears during the 2016 Rugby National Championship match, where the Cougars attempted to take home their fifth-straight title.
While the 2016 season ended in disappointment, the Cougars are anxiously awaiting the start of the new season.
But before the team can take the field, it has to fill out the roster.
Open tryouts were at Helaman Field and about 80 students came in hopes of joining the most successful team on campus.
Every participant was determined: the hopefuls trying to make the roster were determined to stand out in front of the coaches, and the returning players were determined to get the 2017 season started on the right foot.
One returning player — Jackson Kaka — didn’t mince words about the team’s goals.
“Win a national championship, that’s the goal,” Kaka said. “One step at a time, one game at a time.”
Kaka grew up playing rugby in New Zealand and has strong ties to the game. He revels in the close-knit nature of rugby when compared to a sport like football.
“The teams are a lot smaller than football. You’ve got about 120 players on a collegiate football team, and you’ve only got about 20 to 30 players on a (rugby) team. I feel like there’s naturally a lot more camaraderie because the teams are a lot smaller.”
It is that sense of camaraderie that head coach David Smyth hopes to cultivate by finding the right players during tryouts.
“We’re looking at their overall fitness and athletic ability, and then their ability to run and catch and pass with a rugby ball,” Smyth said. “We also look to see if they have any aggressiveness and defense.”
Smyth was optimistic and pleased, calling it the best tryouts of the past two or three years in terms of the talent displayed on the field.
“There’s some great athletes there,” Smyth said. “Some boys with a good rugby pedigree, so I was very pleased.”
Rugby is a club sport at BYU, which means players don’t receive scholarships. While at first glance that seems like an obstacle to overcome, assistant coach Wayne Tarawhiti explained that not having scholarships can be positive.
“These guys are just so committed to playing rugby, they’re just great young men,” Tarawhiti said. “Having money and scholarships would be great, but the fact that they don’t actually isn’t a bad thing.”
It’s the commitment of the rugby players that has led to so much success in the past because of their love of the sport.
The rugby season doesn’t officially start until winter, but the team will prepare with practice, strength training, conditioning, and participation in some sevens rugby.