BYU looks to defend home turf in rematch against Gaels

D1A Rugby: BYU looks to defend home turf in rematch against Gaels
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The most highly anticipated game in college rugby this weekend is round two of BYU and Saint Mary’s annual home-and-away series. A meeting between two teams ranked in the top five of Canterbury’s D1A Rugby Top 20 will always draw plenty of attention, but the Gaels’ Feb. 18 win over the Cougars makes March 11’s encounter that much more intriguing.

Saint Mary’s dominant run over the last five years has made any loss suffered by the Gaels newsworthy. Still, BYU’s run over the same span has included only the rarest of defeats. Then there’s last year’s results. The Cougars swept the two-game series over the Gaels, including a 62-15 blowout in Provo, which made Saint Mary’s 27-12 victory last month even more eye-catching.

The Gaels held BYU scoreless in the first half in February, and continued to keep their rival at bay throughout the 80 minutes on their way to the 15-point win.

Saint Mary’s was noticeably efficient on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the tackle area, commonly preventing a much larger Cougar team from breaking the gain line.

“There’s nothing fancy in tackling,” Saint Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien simply stated. “You’ve got to have guys who want to get up and get after it. There is a body profile component associated with that, for sure, but it’s more than just technique. It’s a mental skill, as well.”

The top-ranked Gaels also benefited from an uncharacteristic number of mistakes by the opposition. BYU, which only had three games under its belt since the New Year as compared to Saint Mary’s five, was not its accurate self in Moraga, Calif.

“BYU had an extraordinary number of unforced errors combined with penalties,” O’Brien offered. “Will they duplicate that again? I don’t think so. We’ll see a vastly improved BYU team – vastly.”

The Cougars returned to their typically dominant self after the defeat. During a road trip to Colorado, BYU easily handled the University of Colorado and No. 19 Air Force on consecutive days. It is, however, unknown if its two newly-capped Eagles will be back in BYU strip this weekend. Matt Jensen started in the second row for the Eagles’ final two matches of the Americas Rugby Championship, while Calvin Whiting came off the bench during the Eagles’ win over Chile and draw with Argentina XV. The two All-Americans are back with their college squad, but the physical toll of international duty might keep them off BYU’s first XV Saturday.

Saint Mary’s has a few standouts in question, too, including its captain. All-American flanker Kevin O’Connor sat out the Gaels’ 57-5 win over No. 11 San Diego State last week and remains a game-day decision for tomorrow’s fixture.

Part two of this clash between two of college rugby’s very best will kick off at 1 p.m. MT and stream live on BYU Rugby’s YouTube channel.