BYU rubgy: Cougars, Cal collide for national title

Published: Friday, May 20 2011 7:30 p.m. MDT

It's the College Premier Division's rugby version of Groundhog Day, with the same two teams chasing a national championship.

For the sixth consecutive year, BYU and Cal will collide for the national collegiate rugby title tonight (7 p.m. MT). The difference is, this match will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time.

The Bears, who boast 25 national titles in their celebrated rugby history, have won four of the five previous championship showdowns between the two teams. The Cougars claimed the crown in 2009.

BYU (15-0) loves this budding rivalry with Cal (26-0), especially with so much at stake.

"It never gets old playing against Cal. It's becoming a new rivalry for us and it's always the best game of our season," said junior All-American flyhalf Dylan Lubbe, who will be playing today on an injured foot. "It's tough beating them and we know what it takes. It's a competitive rivalry.

"BYU knows that Cal hasn't won 25 championships for no reason. It's not luck. Hard work plays a big part."

BYU head coach David Smyth said there's mutual respect between the two programs.

"We have a huge amount of respect for Cal. They do it right. They're a very historical program," he said. "I think they respect us, too."

BYU won the CPD Western Conference crown while Cal captured the CPD Pacific Conference title. The Bears beat their opponents in conference play by an average score of 78-11. Cal crushed Utah, 62-14, in last week's semifinals to advance to the championship game.

"We respect Cal, not only for their rugby program, but also because of the kind of guys they are," said junior All-American prop Mikey Su'a. "I know a couple of them personally, and they're good guys on and off the field. They don't talk a lot of trash out on the field. They just go about their business and play the game.

"They don't make many mistakes. They're all committed to their system and they execute. That's what makes them dangerous. That will be the difference-maker, which team makes the least amount of mistakes. If we make mistakes, they'll punish us for it. They like to play smash-mouth rugby."

The five previous years, the CPD rugby championship game has been played at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. This marks the first time ever the state of Utah has hosted the title tilt.

"It's phenomenal. If you would have told us seven or eight years ago that we could play in a national final in a stadium like Rio Tinto here in Utah, I wouldn't have believed you," Smyth said. "But here we are. It's going to be a great experience for the boys to play in front of family and friends. Most of the fans will cheer for BYU rather than the opposition, so we're looking forward to that."

The Cougars are eager to embrace a home-field advantage.

"The championship is in our backyard, not Cal's backyard, where it's been for the last few years," said Su'a. "That's exciting."

Cal is led by legendary coach Jack Clark, who has compiled a 496-68-5 record in his career at Berkeley. The Bears are riding a 52-game winning streak, with their last loss coming in 2009, when BYU upset Cal, 28-25, in the championship game.

In the 2010 championship match, the Bears beat the Cougars, 19-7.

"It was basically our stupid mistakes that led to them scoring more points than us," Lubbe said of last year's setback. "I think they were a better team than us on that day, but we let an opportunity get away from us.

"We've got to execute. If we give them the ball, they'll keep it as long as they want. We can't have turnovers. To win a national championship takes a lot of determination."

Smyth said one of the keys for his team to emerge victorious is playing aggressively from the outset.

"With Cal, you have to meet them at the front door. They're going to come out hard and be very physical. If we don't stand up and meet them head-on, it could be a long day," he said.

"We have to be physically aggressive. We have to be ready for the barrage at the start. The first 10 or 15 minutes is just like a tornado. If you're not ready for it, before you know it, you're in a tough, tough situation."

What would it mean for BYU to beat Cal for its second national championship?

"It would mean everything," Lubbe said. "BYU rugby is a way of life for most of us. We've been training and working since August for this. It would be a fantastic way to close out the season."

The BYU-Cal game will be the culmination of a day of championship rugby at Rio Tinto Stadium. The High School and U-19 National Championships will take place earlier in the day, at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., respectively.

Live coverage of the BYU-Cal game will be streamed online at ESPN3.com. A tape-delay broadcast will air Sunday (8 a.m. MT) on ESPNU.

Rugby Championships

BYU (15-0) vs. Cal (26-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Rio Tinto Stadium

TV: ESPN3, tape delayed Sunday, 8 a.m. ESPNU

email: jeffc@desnews.com

Twitter: AJeffreyCall

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