BYU-Utah face off for rugby Wasatch Cup

Deseret News

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Utah rugby player Sione Lauti looks for daylight last season.

Shannon Condie

PROVO — It typically goes without saying that the annual Wasatch Cup rivalry between BYU and Utah is a monumental affair.

Just last year over 7,500 people overcame the cold and snow on March 5th to witness a 40-22 Cougar victory. But this year's meeting between the two teams sees the landscape of collegiate rugby much changed from last year with 26-time National Champion Cal Berkeley electing to drop out of the nation's premier collegiate rugby division.

This year marks the first year Cal will not vie for collegiate rugby's top honor since the competition's inception in 1980 and has had the Bears of Berkeley playing in 20 of the last 21 title games.

BYU and Utah, for their part have combined for 9 of the last 11 championship meetings with the Cal Bears.

Since the Wasatch Cup's inception in 2004 BYU has largely owned exclusive rights to the Wasatch Cup, with the lone exception in 2005 where a Blake Burdette-led Ute side not only won the Wasatch Cup, but also beat BYU in the national semi-finals, to move on to the championship game against Cal.

Burdette, who's also the current head coach for Utah said the Wasatch Cup is the measuring stick for where his program looks to be on the national stage.

"We look forward to playing this game each year," Burdette said, "And it's essential for us to play it because it shows where we stand each season as a program."

Utah has played in the National Championship in 2002 and 2005 and brings a strong history of national respect.

Despite some ill-timed losses the Utah 2012 campaign has been impressive with the Utes looking improved in anticipation of their Saturday meeting against BYU.

Early losses to St. Mary's in Moraga by 41-10 and Rugby Super League men's team San Francisco Golden Gate 58-19 showed a youthful team that was looking to find an identity.

But a narrow and last-second defeat to the vaunted Cal Berkeley at Rio Tinto Stadium by the score of 23-22 and recent big-margin victories over Arizona (68-15) and Arizona State (81-27) show that the Utes are starting to hit their stride.

The Utes are led by shifty All-American scrum half Don Pati who currently leads Utah in scoring, while utility back Tonata Lauti adds pace out wide to an already exciting Utah backline.

All-American front-rowers Mike Shephard and Nick Mostyn will also look to feature well against fellow All-American BYU front-rowers Mikey Su'a and Ray Forrester.

The physicality and finesse of the Utah attack will be on display should the Utes look to pull out the win in Provo.

BYU for their part will look to add to their 7 Wasatch Cup victories by defeating the Utes on their home turf of South Field.

The Cougars have never lost on South Field and hope to add Utah to their 2012 mix of South Field victims with St. Mary's (53-17), Arizona (80-8) and Air Force (76-20) all having felt the sting of defeat in Provo.

"We love it here," said BYU captain Ryan Roundy, "South Field is one of the greatest places to play rugby in America. And having the Wasatch Cup here will make it even more exciting."

The Cougars own a 12-0 record on the season with two victories over RSL teams Old Puget Sound and the Denver Barbarians.

Headlining the Cougars are senior halfbacks Dylan Lubbe and Shaun Davies who have led BYU to successive victories over the Utes since their 2008 arrival.

The Cougars will also likely lean on the leadership of Roundy who's barging runs have set up centers Seki Kofe and Paul Lasike this year on numerous occasions.

Despite BYU's undefeated season and Utah's 3 losses in 2012 BYU head coach David Smyth says he knows Utah will be a very formidable foe come Saturday.

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