BOULDER, Colo. – A fall campaign that included a West Conference title and a fourth-place finish at the PAC Rugby 7s Championship was just the beginning for the University of Utah Rugby program. The New Year brings a new slate of matches, which will test the Utes on 10 occasions beginning with a Jan. 16 scrimmage against familiar foe BYU.
In addition to its full-fledged fixture against BYU – April 1’s Wasatch Cup – Utah will play a home-and-away stint against Saint Mary’s, as well as its PAC Rugby Conference schedule that includes the likes of Cal, Arizona, and Arizona State. The consistent threat of a quality opponent, in both the fall and spring semesters, is no coincidence.
“Our primary scheduling goal is to play the toughest collegiate competition possible,” explained Utes Assistant Coach Jon Law. “Like many other programs, our budget and depth constrain us from playing everyone we’d like to play, but we try to put together schedules that challenge and develop our players and coaches, engage our support base, and inspire our recruits.”
Utah’s inclusion in the West Conference only toughened up its busy schedule from a year ago. Colorado State’s forfeit was disappointing and the Utes won’t play New Mexico until March 5, but October wins against Wyoming, No. 19 Colorado, and No. 10 Air Force helped shape a solid platform for the team to build on, and earned Utah the West title.
“Utah very much enjoyed playing the West this fall, and hope that this marks the beginning of a number of new rivalries,” Law said. “Teams in the West are making significant investments into rugby, and we expect that, every year, this conference will get more and more difficult.”
Although Saturday’s meeting with BYU will have somewhat of a controlled environment, including agreeable periods to substitute starters for developmental players, the scrimmage will not be a gentle way to begin 2016 given BYU’s unquestioned dominance in recent seasons.
“We hold BYU in high regard,” complimented Law. “They have an absolutely loaded roster full of very talented, experienced players from terrific rugby-playing nations.”
The wealth of experienced talent in BYU’s cupboard went a long way in producing the Cougars’ 76-31 handling of Utah this past spring. A 45-point beating in the biggest match of the season could blemish the hopes of retribution for the most confident of returning starters. However, after evaluating the 80 minutes played against BYU last March, the Utes feel like they’ve got a fighter’s chance against their longtime rival.
“If we couldn’t identify what went wrong in those games there might be some discouragement, but that’s not the case,” Law confirms. “When we look at those games we also see that Utah scored more points on BYU than any other team on [BYU’s] schedule last year.”
In order to keep the 2016 Wasatch Cup from getting away from them, the Utes will need to improve on a few areas of their game that still aren’t hitting on all cylinders.
“Composure, continuity, finishing open field opportunities, and bringing more violence to the contact area,” listed Law – the latter area of concern probably surprising to the three West sides that felt Utah’s wrath back in October. “We feel we’ve been a bit soft over the past two years.
“We’re making strides every year as a program, and are optimistic that we can bring more competitive balance to this rivalry in the near future.”
The Jan. 16 scrimmage is scheduled for a 1 p.m. MT kickoff at Snow Canyon High School in St. George, Utah.