Wasatch Cup: BYU (5-0) v. Utah (3-0)
BYU and Utah will face off in the ninth playing of the Wasatch Cup in this week’s first Barnburner. The Wasatch Cup began in 2004 as the culmination of a long and storied rivalry between the two schools and since its inception; BYU has won seven of eight matches and the last six in a row. Both teams reached the national semifinals in 2011 and are undefeated in 2012 D1A competition. In the 2011 Wasatch Cup, BYU defeated Utah 40 – 22 in a match that determined the Western Conference Champions and a favorable home match to open the playoffs. The 2012 Wasatch Cup will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Saturday April 7 kicking off at 1:00 PM MT. For tickets click here.
The BYU and Utah rivalry has been strong since the 1970’s, but has increased in intensity over recent years due to the raised level of play by both programs. In 2011 BYU produced 11 All-Americans (8 first team) while Utah had 5 All-Americans (3 first team). It is safe to say that some of the best young rugby talent in America will be on showcase this weekend.
BYU is led into the match by a strong group of returning starters, many of who were All-Americans in 2011. Shaun Davies, Dylan Lubbe, Ryan Roundy, and Mikey Su’a have been staples on the All-America team for the past three seasons and have a great supporting cast that includes many other solid players. Paul Lasike, a 2009 All-American, has resurfaced to BYU as one of the top try scorers in the country thus far, scoring 6 tries in his first five games.
Lasike’s place in the top four try scorers for 2012 displays BYU’s depth and versatility. In 2011, eight-man Ryan Roundy scored 19 tries in seven regular season matches to lead the entire nation in scoring. This season has seen a well-balanced attack from the Cougars with tries being scored from all positions on the field. In their five league matches through 2012 the Cougars have scored a total of 392 points while allowing just 56, for an average match score of 78 – 11.
Utah is led into the match by their own All-Americans Don Pati and Nick Mostyn. Pati leads the Utes at scrumhalf and is a formidable offensive threat from anywhere on the field. Known for his high level of play in sevens, Pati is a shifty runner with great vision and a nose for the try line. Mostyn, on the other hand, is a big, bruising prop that punishes would-be tacklers at the point of contact. The two players give Utah a sturdy foundation to work from on offense as well as defense.
In 2012 the Utes have faced a wide variety of opponents: 2011 Collegiate National Champions, Cal; 2011 Rugby Super League Champions, San Francisco Golden Gate; and 2011 D1AA National Runner-up, Santa Barbara. They lost to SFGG 58-19 and defeated UCSB 51-0. Against Cal, the Utes scored 22 points in the second half only to lose 23-22 on a last second penalty. The difficult preseason has paid off for Utah as they are yet to be seriously challenged in regular season play.
The fact that both Utah and BYU are undefeated heading into Saturday gives the Wasatch Cup added significance. The winner will become the favorite to win the Western Conference and a conference championship means a home playoff game. In 2011 Utah finished second in the Western Conference but were able to win a distant road match against a strong Army side. This is not the ideal situation for any team, and both Utah and BYU will do whatever they can to prevent a loss.
A win in the Wasatch Cup also gives the victor some added weight in recruiting players. Utah is a hotbed for high school rugby and many recruits will be watching the game from the stands. Highland and United are two youth programs that have been particularly strong the past few years, each having competed in the USA Rugby U-19 National Championship. Many current Utah and BYU players played for either Highland or United and know each other quite well at this point. This fact only adds fuel to the already raging fire between the two perennial powers.
Army (4-0) v. Navy (1-2)
Army and Navy renew their storied rivalry Saturday as the two teams clash in the second Barnburner for week eight. Army and Navy finished first and second, respectively, in the Rugby East Conference in 2011 and the match played between the two last year was the championship decider. This season’s match, however, has a different build up to it as Navy currently sits in fourth in Rugby East. Regardless of the standing of the teams, a great American sports tradition will reconvene on Saturday at the Navy-Marines Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland at 5:00 PM ET.
The rivalry between Army and Navy is heated across all sports the two teams compete in and each match is a showcase for both branches of the military. There will be grandstands full of military color and every player will surely honor this game as a rugby player and a serviceman.
Army is led into the match by 2011 All-American flyhalf, Will Holder, who is sure with the boot and directs his team extremely well. In 2012 thus far, Holder has scored one try, kicked 13 conversions, as well as three penalty kicks and his range with his foot will require discipline from Navy at the breakdown within their own territory. Accompanying Holder is the Army leading try scorers, Christopher Hardee (5), Kyle Ulses (4), and Karl Crist (3). A strength of Army this season is their ability to score from all positions. In 2011 Army heavily relied on All-American wing, Ben Leatigaga, to carry the try-scoring load. In the regular season Leatigaga scored 15 times, second in the nation.
This season for Army the scorers are different, but the results are the same. They have been tested by Kutztown and Delaware and in their wins over the two, have proven they are the team to beat in Rugby East. A win Saturday will give Army a secured place in the playoffs and a great boost of confidence heading into their final regular season match with Penn State.
Jack McAuliffe and Seamus Siefring lead navy into Saturday’s match as the top point scorer and on-field leaders, respectively. McAuliffe scored two tries and kicked two conversions in the Navy loss to Kutztown last weekend and has been solid in their previous two matches as well. Siefring is a 2011 All-American forward and a very disruptive flanker for the Midshipmen. The two lead a big and strong squad that is typical for a Navy team.
In their first match of the season Navy routed Rutgers 69-3 and it looked as if they would run the table until the match with Army this weekend. Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, this has not been the case. A tough loss to Penn State in the Week six Barnburner followed by a loss to Kutztown last weekend has Navy frustrated and in need of a big win against the conference leader. A win keeps Navy in the hunt for the playoffs while a loss will make it near impossible for them to extend their season.
Regardless of the outcome, these two teams will play a match that showcases the talent, work ethic, and dedication of these impressive young men who represent our country day-in and day-out with the highest honor. When it is all said and done, rugby is only a game, but the camaraderie and brotherhood created by it is real, and holds deep and true across nations, religions, and military branches. The match between Army and Navy is a brotherhood in arms as well as a brotherhood in rugby and a great American tradition will continue at kickoff. Whether you support Army or Navy, remember the spirit of the sport; and be thankful for the sacrifices that all military personnel across all branches make everyday in order for us to freely enjoy the sport we love.