Defense drives Saint Mary’s to win over BYU

D1A Rugby: Defense drives Saint Mary’s to win over BYU
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Saint Mary’s struck first blood in this year’s home-and-away series against BYU Saturday, Feb. 18. A sturdy defensive effort led the hosting Gaels to the 27-12 victory between highly-ranked Canterbury D1A Rugby Top 20 sides.

It’s nearly impossible to prepare for the size and speed of BYU, but Saint Mary’s was feeling confident after a solid week of training.

“The past week of practice was very focused and physical,” described captain Kevin O’Connor. “We knew what type of game they were going to try and play, and it was all a matter of whether we were going to rust and execute the game plan.”

The Gaels’ game plan was working wonderfully from the start, as Holden Yungert fed Chris McDonell, who ran it in for a try and the game’s first points. Dylan Audsley’s conversion put Saint Mary’s up 7-0 and the All-American added a penalty kick in the 19th minute to extend the lead.

The sure-tackling Gaels did well to minimize BYU’s line breaks and went into halftime leading, 10-0. A wet pitch didn’t help either team’s ability to link phases together, but it was defensive pressure applied by the home team that had more to do with the Cougars’ inability to get on the scoreboard.

“Saint Mary’s played consistently on defense,” Gaels Head Coach Tim O’Brien said. “I was impressed by the team’s ability to stay balanced and focused from start to finish.”

Audsley’s boot strengthened Saint Mary’s lead with another penalty to open the second half, but BYU was finally able to answer thanks to Tua Laei’s unconverted try in the 64th minute.

Despite the physical confrontation, Saint Mary’s showed now signs of slowing down and pushed its lead to 15 points when Audsley converted eight-man Vili Helu’s try. The Gaels began to pound on BYU’s door again, but an intercepted pass by Jared Whippy led to the All-American’s try under the posts after streaking 90 meters across the field. The individual piece of excellence by Whippy looked to have shrunk Saint Mary’s final margin of victory, but a late try by Yungert and subsequent Audsley conversion concluded the match and earned the Gaels a 15-point win, 27-12.

“The effort across the board was tremendous,” O’Connor added. “On days when it’s wet and the environment may not play to our suit we try to focus on controlling the things we can control, and of those things one of the most important is effort.”

The superior performance laid out by Saint Mary’s was a far cry from the 80 minutes that produced a 62-15 win for BYU the last time the two teams met, and could have the Gaels pegged for the top spot in the Canterbury D1A Rugby Top 20 later this week.

“We didn’t dwell on the massive loss we took in Provo last year,” explained O’Brien. “Each contest poses new challenges and this one was no different. It was a great stepping stone for the direction in which we are headed.”

Saint Mary’s returns to conference play for its next game – a Feb. 25 trip to San Luis Obispo, Calif., to take on a Cal Poly team coming off a nice win of its own. The Mustangs dropped Santa Clara, 50-19, in a recent California contest.

After regrouping back on campus, BYU will be back on the road this week. First, the Cougars will stop in Boulder, Colo., to challenge the University of Colorado Feb. 24 before going up against No. 15 Air Force the very next day at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.