Rivalry renewed in Colorado, Wyoming seeks 2-0 start

D1A Rugby: Rivalry renewed in Colorado, Wyoming seeks 2-0 start
Photo Credit: Ed Navarro

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The West Conference season marches into the second week of play when Colorado State hosts Colorado Saturday, Oct. 1, and Utah State pays Wyoming a visit on the very same day.

The rivalry match against the Buffaloes marks Colorado State’s first conference game of the season. Still, the Rams appear plenty prepared to take on their familiar foe after taking down No. 14 Utah in Salt Lake City last week, thus thrusting Colorado State into the D1A Rugby Top 20.

Rivalry aside, the Rams are focused on putting in the work necessary to get the result it hopes for Saturday rather than the color jersey their opponent will be wearing.

“We don’t change the message based on the team we are playing from a coaching point of view,” said Colorado State coach Rod Hartley. “We have a lot of respect for every team in the West, so the focus and intensity is always present in our preparation.”

Colorado is coming off a nice win of its own, albeit against a lesser opponent than the Utes. Last week the Buffs trounced University of Northern Colorado, 77-5, in its first full run-out of the season. Still, the boys from Boulder will admit the feeling in their camp is a bit different when a matchup with the Rams is awaiting them on Saturday.

“There’s always a difference at practice in the week leading up to Colorado State,” said full back and club president Kellen McDonald.

The in-state rivalry runs deep on campus, but the rugby team isn’t putting its season in the balance of one game.

“We know the Colorado State match is a big game, but our goals don’t end with a win this weekend,” McDonald added.

Last year Colorado was able to build a 15-7 halftime lead against the Rams before eventually winning the match, 32-12. The Buffaloes would like to get out to a similar start against Colorado State this weekend, but an early lead won’t guarantee victory against a deep Rams team that can hurt its opponent in the second half.

In last week’s win over Utah, Colorado State fell behind, 20-7, at halftime, only to storm back for a 36-20 victory.

“We made a couple of key substitutions in the second half of the match that changed the game for us,” Hartley said. “Duncan Frost and Don Fuller made a huge impact for us on defense, and we started to play our game.”

Utah State and Wyoming both got their feet in conference play last week, but came away with different results. The Cowboys were able to head down to Albuquerque and beat New Mexico, while Utah State played No. 9 Air Force very tough in a losing effort.

“Air Force is a tough team,” Utah State Head Coach Zac Root said. “They are playing really good rugby. I was proud that my guys could pay a superior team and not crumble.”

Even in a losing effort, Utah State passed its first test by playing a top-10 team very well in the program’s first match as a member of D1A Rugby and the West. This week, however, presents a new challenge as the game against Wyoming marks the Aggies’ first road match in the West.

“Our first travel week is going to be a tough one,” admitted Root. “We will be fully prepared to play Wyoming. The hardest thing will be to make sure the guys are loose. We have to make sure we get all of the bugs out before we set foot onto their pitch.”

After beating the Lobos by 38 points last year, Wyoming settled for a nine-point win last weekend, leaving Wyoming with a few things to work on this week at training.

“I would like to see improvement in our set pieces, better body position in the tackle and better passing at pace,” addressed Wyoming Head Coach David Finnoff.

One reason the Cowboys aren’t hitting on all cylinders early in the season is the late changes made to their lineup. The Sept. 10 Jackalope Tournament was a good learning experience for the team, but Wyoming also saw three players go down with serious injuries. The most devastating loss was 2015 All-West full back Brandon Kozman.

“Injuries have caused us to play people out of position, and to bring several players new to rugby into the starting lineup,” Finnoff explained.

Fortunately for the Cowboys players like Jerry Schmidt and Ryley McConn have filled in nicely, and former Wyoming wide receiver Dominick Rufran, who ideally would have been eased into the squad on the wing, has been picking up the duties at full back faster than anticipated.