Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wasatch Cup 2009: Thoughts

Well, folks... I don't even know where to begin. Seriously, I don't... I was actually about to post some pregame thoughts and predictions early Saturday morning, but I'm glad I didn't! I had thought that a match-up between the #2 and #4 teams in the nation would have been crazy enough to call, but what to think, say, or do when both of these are the BYU and Utah rugby teams???

And what a sweet game it was against Utah! Our boys mopped them up like never before... 59-15! Congratulations to all the players, coaches, and staff on this fantastic win over Utah! (What happened to Utah anyway?)

In previous Wasatch Cup meetings, tensions have run pretty high for the duration of the entire game; it's just a given fact, regardless of either team's record, talent, standing, and etc. And the scoreboard usually reflects such (e.g. the 2007 Wasatch Cup match at Utah, a 21-20 win for BYU).

This time around, however, the game was rather tense for only the first twenty minutes or so. A lot of flip-flopping from missed tackles, bad passes/knock-ons, and overcommitments allowed for some scoring on both sides of the ball. But after that point, BYU took Utah to the clinic... really... five tries to none in the second half is about as demoralizing as it gets!

I don't mean to say that BYU looked perfect throughout the rest of the game, but they decisively stuck it to the Utah defense with coordinated passing plays and a touch of the usual, make-you-miss juking. BYU's backline stole the spotlight with great plays by Dylan Lubbe, Paul Lasike, Vito Qaqa, and Manti Su'a. Mention must also be made of freshman Jordan Lowry who, coming into the game late in the second half, found paydirt in the endzone off a fast break play. Way to be in the right place, at the right time!

As for the forwards, I was rather surprised to not see much intensity or outstanding play. Now, some would argue that the forwards aren't supposed to be the stars of the show anyway, but I always have high expectations of the BYU pack. They have always delivered a solid performance by dominating the tackling and rucking, controlling scrums and line-outs, and often creating scoring opportunities among themselves. And from my perspective, one of the greatest displays of BYU might and intimidation has always been the rolling maul, the 'bread and butter' of the BYU forwards in past years...

In this test, however, the BYU forwards seemed to be playing a bit passively, never establishing dominance on any facet of play. Rucks were rather haphazard; scrums were driven back every time; line-outs looked uncoordinated; and mauls were nowhere to be seen. (How did Utah not capitalize on these shortcomings?)

Now, to avoid the appearance of complete ignorance, I must say that many of these facts could very well have been justified. At the very least, tackling was solid for the most part. And I recall hearing that a new rule in college rugby concerning rolling mauls effectually limits their effectiveness (hence BYU not depending on them anymore). Perhaps the fact that no one forward really stood out actually indicates a solid group effort that allowed numerous opportunities for the backs to shine and take the glory. All in all, not bad fellas... but let's tighten it up before tournament time, eh?

Last but not least, I must make my first ever, match MVP designation: Shaun Davies. The 'squirrely' scrumhalf kept everyone on their toes (especially Utah!) by effectively managing the ball between forwards and backs, creating holes in the defense, and making wise decisions when personally handling the ball... all while going 9 for 9 on kicks and conversions! (Pssst, don't tell the football team!) Talk about the right day to be spot on! Congratulations to Shaun Davies, my nomination for the 2009 Wasatch Cup MVP.

With all this success, the temptation to become complacent creeps in... but I say, modifying the famous words of Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never let up!" BYU Rugby Forever!


  1. The pack wasn't quite so dominant as in years past because:
    1) 2 of the 3 front-rowers are new to their positions this year and sophomore Mikey Su'a, the lone returner, is only in his second year ever of playing rugby;
    2) both starting locks in the Cup were new to BYU, one a freshman and the other is brand new to rugby this year;
    3) the flankers both played in the backs last year and are new to their positions.
    It's safe to say that the team is biased for speed, agility, and tackling rather than for raw power in the scrums. As for the line outs, you've got a new hooker, new locks, and new flankers. I think that they're doing very well in their first season together.

  2. Great points and thanks for the comment.

    To add to point #1, I didn't mention that big Mikey Su'a was also yellow-carded in the first half. BYU had to play down a man for ten minutes which further hurt scrums, line-outs, and etc., although the BYU defense obviously held through it all.

    To point #3, yes you are correct that both played in the backs last year (Apenisa Malani as a center and Nate Maughan as a fullback), however I have heard that the latter actually played as a flanker in all his previous rugby experience.

    And I definitely agree that they are doing quite well with all of the new talent, perhaps even better than previous years. The hope, however, is that BYU continues to deepen its ranks to the point of not depending on brand new or freshman talent to fill starting positions. I think talent, strength, and cohesion would more quickly develop as a result of not having to constantly revamp the starting lineup, especially in the case of the forwards.

  3. Further comments re: forward pack:
    1) Our starting locks (for the Cup) are/were much smaller/lighter than our proposed competition (Cal, San Diego State, Denver Barbarians, etc.)
    2) Our starting (and backup) flankers are smaller and lighter than their couterparts.
    3) Our #8 is smaller and lighter than most of our competitors.
    4) Our front row holds its own in terms of size, but has a bit above average mobility and endurance. Still, it was a challenge to hold our own with Denver.
    5) A big reason for our outstanding performance against Utah was the experience gained the previous week playing against a very big, tough, able, and well-organized Denver squad in Grand Junction.
    6) We have an great back line that gets so much ball because they make good tackles and poach a bunch on their own.
    Note: Starting fullback Sam Thorley and starting lock Viliami Vimahi didn't play due to injury.

  4. YE-UH! March 27th we'll cream them again!


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