Utah runs the West, wins conference title

D1A Rugby: Utah runs the West, wins conference title
Photo Credit: Jay Morrison

BOULDER, Colo. – In January 2015, Utah entered D1A as an Independent. In March, it beat the nation’s best side, Saint Mary’s. After making it to the Quarterfinals in the D1A playoffs, the Utes joined fellow playoff squads Air Force and Colorado State in the West, and, in October, Utah clinched the West with a 41-30 win over Air Force. It has been a very eventful year for the Utes in D1A Rugby, as they have ascended to No. 4 in the Canterbury D1A Top 20 rankings in under a year, while taking out some of the top sides.

Utah was the lone Independent side to make the D1A playoffs last season, and made it all the way to the Quarterfinals before being knocked out by Saint Mary’s. Its entrance into the West bolstered the schedule, offering multiple opportunities to play tough opponents, and also gave the Utes a chance at a conference championship. They took full advantage of that opportunity.

Fans were not able to see Utah play Colorado State, as the first West match was forfeited by the visiting Rams. The Utes would have benefitted from playing against one of the best players in the nation in Ben Pinkelman. Matches against Colorado and Wyoming gave Utah a physical challenge, but the Utes were able to outrun both sides and put up 64 and 65 points, respectively. Their hardest challenge was a match against Air Force, but prevailed with the 41-30 win. The Zoomies gave their all – the fit side was all over the pitch – and put together a solid second half, but weren’t able to stop the high-scoring Utes.

“I feel my side did really well this season,” said Utah hooker Chad Gough. “We had a lot of new guys step up and show their skills on the pitch, and the veterans took leadership and played some key roles. That being said, even though we put up some good numbers, we did not play to the best of our abilities. There is still a lot of things we need to learn and prepare for.”

After the 15s season, most sides find themselves focusing on sevens, or trying to find a couple of decent nonconference matchups to keep the team in shape for the D1A playoffs. Utah will spend its winter playing a slate of games against some of the best sides in the nation. The Utes will play BYU in the annual Wasatch Cup, and will also play Saint Mary’s, a side they played three times last season. This amount of elite rugby can be difficult, but Utah has found a way to manage it.

“The team is very close,” said Gough. “For me, they are like family. We have a lot of fun together. We all know we have each other’s back. I know you hear it everywhere in rugby, but there is no greater bond than with your rugby brothers. I personally don’t think I would be the player that I am today without their support. I owe them a lot.”

The Utes still have one West match against New Mexico that will be played at the beginning of the New Year, but they have already clinched the conference championship. Utah’s addition to the West brought a national power to the conference, and the other sides will have to work hard to catch up.