MORAGA, Calif. – Two giants of college rugby, BYU and Saint Mary’s, squared off this past Saturday and went toe to toe for 80 minutes. Both sides delivered and absorbed several blows during the contest before the Cougars escaped Moraga with a four-point victory.
AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American fly half Johny Linehan, who was terrific all afternoon, got BYU on the board first with a penalty goal. Saint Mary’s quickly stormed into the 10-meter line of the Cougars, only to have a Kingsley McGowan pass not find the hands of a hard-charging Dino Waldren. The knock-on was immediately scooped up and a deep kick and chase was executed perfectly by the visitors. Now inside the Gaels’ 22-meter line, BYU only needed two quick phases to dot down for a converted try and a 10-0 lead.
Showing great resilience, Saint Mary’s countered with consistent pressure on attack and surprising success in the set pieces given the Cougars’ enormous size advantage.
“The forwards, once again, played a great game,” McGowan said of his teammates. “Our pack builds the dance floor that us backs get to dance on.”
Excellent structure off of a lineout saw the ball spread through the hands of the Gaels and into Cooper Maloney’s hands for the All-American to race beyond the endline for Saint Mary’s first score. Two Dylan Audsley penalties and a second Maloney try closed the half and gave the defending National Champions an 18-10 lead and plenty of momentum.
BYU’s side was equally robust, dominating the opening segments of the second half. In a flash, the Cougars managed to tie the game then took their second lead of the afternoon on a Josh Whippy try.
A BYU try and a successful Audsley penalty left the Gaels behind, 32-28. Needing two tries with only a few precious minutes remaining on the clock, Saint Mary’s repeatedly pounded on the Cougar goal line before Vili Helu looked to have finally broken through to put his team within striking distance. Instead, a knock-on was called after deliberation between the ref and his assistant referee.
The Gaels eventually earned the converted try they sought, but did so as time expired, making the final score 32-28 in favor of BYU.
“We came away with some positives, but at the end of the day we lost,” McGowan recalled of the back-and-forth battle. “We weren’t good enough and we have to get better.”
Saint Mary’s will have an opportunity to avenge the four-point loss March 14 when they play the Cougars in Provo, Utah. The test will be especially difficult considering the Gaels face the University of Utah the day before their rematch with BYU. Saint Mary’s, however, believes it will be up for the challenge.
“We’re ready for that,” McGowan confidently stated. “We are used to a level of intensity at training that usually leaves us with a few bumps and bruises come Saturday. We’re comfortable being uncomfortable, so we’re looking forward to the challenge of playing the back-to-back against Utah and BYU.”
Judging by the scoreline against each of its collegiate opponents outside of BYU, it seems as though the Gaels don’t take any opposition lightly. So, you can be certain Head Coach Tim O’Brien already has his players focused on their next match, March 7 versus Cal Poly, rather than looking back on Saturday or ahead to March 14.
“You have to compete,” said McGowan of his team’s focus regardless of opponent. “Teams are going to give us their best show, so we have a team mentality that we are going to give our best.”