BOULDER, Colo. – One of the most anticipated college rugby matches of the season will take place in Moraga, Calif. Feb. 20 when Saint Mary’s hosts Brigham Young University.
The two elite programs have played home-and-away fixtures the past few seasons. In 2014, the Gaels were able to protect their own pitch and beat the Cougars at home. In 2015, however, Saint Mary’s wasn’t able to maintain second half leads in both of its meetings against BYU, and fell in each match.
“BYU is so hard to beat because they are a well-trained team that will punish your mistakes,” said Saint Mary’s center Dylan Audsley. “The small things matter when you play these guys because they have that rugby knowledge to expose you.”
Not only is BYU experienced, but their roster is littered with talented players that possess lethal combinations of size and speed.
“They can score from anywhere on the field, and they can score quickly,” said Gaels Forwards Coach John Everett. “We have to eliminate this from their game to have a chance.”
There is certainly no game plan in existence that will guarantee a victory over the Cougars, but spreading the ball wide where the size differential isn’t as skewed might benefit the smaller Gaels.
“If we can avoid contact that would be ideal, but not very realistic,” Everett said. “If we can move them around and find space to exploit that will help.”
BYU might have a noticeable size advantage on Saint Mary’s, and every other team in the country, but the Gaels have more results to show for in 2016. Warm California weather and a relentless schedule have already seen Saint Mary’s beat, Arizona, Arizona State, Lindenwood and San Diego State. When compared to the Cougars’ matches up to this point, which are limited to a scrimmage against Utah and abbreviated matches at the Red Rock Tournament against the likes of Dixie State and Weber State, the Gaels have had much more match time against much stiffer competition.
Five matches in six weeks against some of the best teams in the nation have left a few Saint Mary’s players battered and bruised. Forwards Henry Hall, Vili Helu and full back Nick Schlobohm are all keys players currently on the mend. Meanwhile, BYU sure hasn’t hit its stride in terms of continuity, but it will have its full compliment of players Saturday.
One reason Saint Mary’s jam-packs its calendar with top-level matches is that the program is more concerned with improvement than wins. Of course, the Gaels are about as competitive a bunch you’ll run into on the pitch, but the players know they must get better during each performance with difficult contests against Cal, Utah and a rematch against BYU all taking place in the next three weeks.
“No matter lose or win, we want to play our best game, and if that’s not enough then the better team won,” said Audsley. “In any case, at the final whistle I know we will be a better team for having played a tough opponent.”
Some teams attempt to train with an additional sense of urgency when in the midst of a big week of preparation. When asked if the mood in the Saint Mary’s camp is any different this week while preparing for an opponent that has won the previous three meetings, the All-American simply said, “We are just excited to get out and play.”
The first of two 2016 fixtures between Saint Mary’s and BYU will kickoff at 1 p.m. PT on Feb. 20 and will air live on Gael Vision. The Cougars will host the second part of the home-and-away March. 12.