The time has come... the tale of two universities continues... the epic rivalry between rugby powerhouses BYU and Utah culminates yet again in the month of March with not one but two match meetings!!!
First, within only a matter of hours (1:00 PM, Saturday, March 6), the BYU Rugby team takes their home pitch against the University of Utah to decide the recipient of the coveted Wasatch Cup (live television coverage provided by BYU-TV). The winner earns a direct spot in the Round of 16 for the National Championship playoffs in April, not to mention the pride and respect of their respective schools. The loser... well, they just inherit an extra dose of bad luck (see "Utah Rugby 2009 season"). :P
Second, on March 24th, BYU again meets Utah in an exhibition match to be held in Rio Tinto Stadium (click the link to reserve advance tickets; BYU fans sit in the EAST grandstand with the Superfans, not in the 'club seats' with the red people). The event is actually a double-header with a teaser match between Utah Valley University and Utah State preceding the main event. All in all, it should be a great night for BYU Rugby, for all levels of rugby in Utah, and for the sport in general.
Now, before I get totally crazy and ooze with bias (a little too late, I know) for the Cougars of BYU, let me tell you why this year's Wasatch Cup match won't exactly be a cakewalk... (not that any game against Utah is ever easy, but this one's a heck of a lot more promising than last year's meetings!)
In the Red Corner, we have the Utes of Utah, rejuvenated and ready to come out swinging. After a tough season of unrealized expectations and rebuilding, our red brethren have found some fire in the likes of a few all-star freshmen, namely, Thretton Palamo at flyhalf, Don Pati at scrumhalf, and Naki Angilau at fullback. The former of these boasts an already-impressive résumé, having represented the USA in international level play, both for the US Eagles and US Sevens teams... If that doesn't make sense to you, it essentially means that he's got about as much rugby talent as anyone his age in the nation... and then some. Add to this threat the proven talent of Don Pati and Naki Angilau, two standout players selected to the US Under-20 national team in the last year.
No great mystery here, folks, but I'd be willing to bet that Coach Burdette's putting a lot of faith in these guys to really scramble the BYU defense. So what do you know: Utah will actually have a backline this year! ... I just hope no one, and especially not all, of them are a 'Paul Lasike' type or we may be in for a long night!
As far as the Utah forwards are concerned, I don't really know what to expect. Last year's pack was a sort of hodgepodge group that seemed to bring a general inconsistency in execution. Other than a random mention of their flankers, Mike Kimball and Mike Jeszczak, and lock Scott Metcalf, I'll err on the side of caution and say that they're probably better than last year. After all, they did only barely lose to the University of Victoria, a well-established Canadian team, to the tune of 38-22. So, we'll see what their scrum has to offer... if they 'possess the constitution' to bring it!
In the Blue Corner, we have the Cougars of BYU, our beloved defending National Champions! Coming off of their most successful season ever, BYU counts with a great amount of depth, especially in the forwards... and good thing too, as recent injuries to starting prop, Mike Price, and starting lock, Isikeli Volavola, have turned these two into water boys for now. Anchoring the pack (literally!) nonetheless are big props All-American Mikey Su'a and New Zealand native Ray Forrester, as well as up-and-coming forward Joey Mount at hooker. Coupled with the solid back row of TJ Allred and Mark Bonham at lock, Haini Leaaetoa and Moana Hafoka at flanker, and Ryan Roundy at eight-man, the BYU scrum looks quite potent and prepped for the opposition. According to the most recent interviews, it sounds like our BYU side will be banking on the forwards to produce in dominant fashion (especially, I personally hope and pray, at the set piece!).
As for the backs, oohhhh, those BYU backs, we've got some fun stuff in the pipeline! Yes, it's a bit of a rebuilding season, and yes, a number of key starters have gone the way of graduation and ineligibility... But, remember, we're talking about Our Boys here! 'In the wings', we have Ryan Blaser, younger brother of epic speedster All-American John Blaser, as well as Konner Wiscombe, Sam Wolthius, and impressive freshman Lelann Latu. At center, we have returning starters Viliami Vimahi (Pila the 'Punisher'; see "Destruction of Cal 2009"), Tupu Folau (don't know if he's recouped yet) and Sean Howard, as well as supporter Adam Kuchin. Maybe not the most formidable cast in some critics' opinion but definitely coming together nicely... enough so to keep the Denver Barbarians on their toes last weekend!
And perhaps most lethal for the Cougars is the ever-impressive 'Dynamic Duo' of halfbacks Shaun Davies and Team Captain Dylan Lubbe. Both players contributed greatly to the Cougars' National Title last season and continue in similar fashion. However, seeing as how Utah appears to have an equally amazing 9-10 connection, I wouldn't be surprised if the scrum-to-backline linkage point may well be where all the craziness happens! We know that these four players are deadly in terms of offense, but just how strong will they be on defense? We might just be hearing the clash all the way up in the bleachers! (I honestly hope no ambulances will be necessary) Ahhhh, heaven help us, the suspense is unbearable!!!
As for the later March matchup, folks, I'll have to wait before I go too far out on a limb and say anything overly rash... After all, I've nearly met my quota for the month as is! That and I'm almost completely consumed by the prospects of tomorrow!
Sorry folks, but I'll just have to leave all of us hanging... this should be an amazing and intense match to be sure! Good luck to Our Boys as they take on those pesky Utes! And good luck (with feeble, outstretched hand) to Utah as they come down to Provo to put up with Our Boys, Our Fans, and... one crazy Superfan, of course!!! BYU Rugby Forever!!!
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