Improved Utah ready for clash with BYU in the Wasatch Cup

D1A Rugby: Improved Utah ready for clash with BYU in the Wasatch Cup
Photo Credit: Jay Morrison (above & homepage)

SALT LAKE CITY – One of the biggest rivalries in college rugby will be renewed March 21 when Utah faces in-state rival BYU in the Wasatch Cup. The two Beehive State powers met Jan. 23 when BYU outmatched Utah, 50-22. However, the initial meeting was considered a friendly, and Saturday’s rematch is for the Wasatch Cup.

“The Wasatch Cup is the ‘Big Game’ here in Utah for not only the players, but coaches and fans,” explained Utah Director of Rugby Mark Drown. “Anytime BYU and Utah play you can guarantee an exciting match, and the match will be sold out.”

The Utes have been on a perpetual movement towards improvement since the beginning of the year. Just last week, Utah beat a Saint Mary’s team of combined starters and reserves, but the convincing 49-21 score line is an indication of the program’s immense improvement since January, when the Utes fell to the Gaels, 81-15.

Needless to say, the team BYU beat in St. George, Utah, back in January is not the same squad the Utes will bring to the table this weekend. Still, Utah’s coaching staff understands the difficulties that come with facing the Cougars.

“BYU is a very experienced team, and we respect their accomplishments this season,” Drown said. “They came from behind to defeat Saint Mary’s last week, and that says a lot about them as a team.”

As is the case with just about any team BYU plays, the Cougars’ massive size in their forward pack should give them an advantage in the trenches. Utah will be doing itself a great service to get the ball into the hands of its back line aces as often as possible. This group includes dynamic playmakers Danny Christensen and Tonata Lauti, and downhill-running centers Scott Strong and Taylor Thomas.

One aspect of a rivalry game Utah doesn’t believe will be a problem, but can be for other teams, is ensuring the intensity of the rivalry doesn’t take away from the team’s detail to execution and playing intelligent rugby.

“I believe the level of intensity for both teams will be the same as if they were playing any other top opponent,” Drown claimed. “The Utah coaching staff has been relentless on focusing on the patters of play, and the players have been very focused on executing those patters.

“I believe the intensity will reside in staying focused for 80 minutes.”

This year will mark the final time the Wasatch Cup is a one-off match between Utah and BYU. Beginning next season, the rivalry will become the Wasatch Cup Derby, with each school hosting a match against the other.