Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Some call it real football.
Rugby, a clash of meat and bones, with no protection — its a game of speed and power where the smart and practiced usually rise to the top.
David Smyth believes this version of BYU rugby is more mature to attack, compete, defend and deliver a national championship this Saturday in Rio Tinto Stadium when the Cougars and Arkansas State battle for the USA Rugby collegiate title.
His guys are older, more experienced, more focused and hungry.
That's a good sign for the favored Cougars who will be making their seventh consecutive appearance in the national championship match.
Smyth noted the seniors are older and more experienced and that is important. "You sense they are more disciplined and work harder and understand more fully what it will take."
A year ago the Cougars played before more than 12,000 fans, who witnessed a BYU loss to the powerhouse University of California. The Bears dropped down from the highest level of college rugby, due in part to a squabble between the school and the governing body.
The Cougars played Cal in the previous six championship matches.
But Smyth warns that Arkansas State will be formidable, loaded up with rugby players from South Africa.
"They will be very good, and they've got a lot of skill. They are quick and big."
Arkansas State made the playoffs as the Mid-South No. 2 team behind Life University, which was the No. 1 seed and defeated Army 36-20 at West Point and St. Mary's 34-17 in Moraga, Calif.
The Cougars advanced after defeating Life University in Georgia last weekend, a feat Smyth said was formidable. "I don't know if any other team could have gone there and beat them at their place this year."
The Cougars' last national rugby title came in 2009 against Cal, a 25-22 win after being down 12-0. This year's game will be seen live on ESPN3.com and rebroadcast May 21 on ESPNU.
The Cougars have thrived on its Polynesian connections, drawing from nations with strong LDS roots such as Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand.
BYU rugby has produced more than 40 collegiate All-Americans since 2001 with 10 in 2011. Two professional rugby players have come from the Cougar ranks, Salesi Sika and Alipate Tuilevuka (2006).
The Cougars are currently 16-0 in 2012 and last lost to Cal in the 2011 title match, 21-14.
Rugby is not an NCAA sport, but BYU works within the USA Rugby Collegiate Division I-A classification, the highest competition. Division I-A is divided into four subdivisions, the Pacific, West, Mid-South and Eastern).
The Cougars have relied heavily on two players who took time out to try out for Bronco Mendenhall's football team this past winter and spring. They are center Paul Lasika, from Hamilton, New Zealand, who, as a sophomore, is BYU's leading try-scorer with 13, including two against Life last weekend. The other is prop Ray Forrester, who was injured last week and underwent an MRI on his knee on Monday.
"Lasika's two tries last week against Life were crucial to keeping us in it and allowed us to build on for that win," said Smyth. Lasika has received a scholarship offer from Mendenhall to stick with the football team as a running back.
Captain Ryan Roundy, from Holliday, was the leading try-scorer a year ago and has six in 2012.
Scrumhalf Shaun Davies, a senior from Durban, South Africa, is a three-time All-American and the Cougars' leading point scorer with 164.
Prop Mikey Su'a from West Jordan, is a guy who didn't play high school rugby but is the anchor of BYU's scrum and is a three-time All-American.
Lock/flanker Kyle Sumsion, from Highland, played for the United Rugby Club and the sophomore scored the first try of the 2009 national championship as a freshman before accepting an LDS mission call to Argentina. He has never missed a game in his BYU career but for that church service.
Tua Laei, from West Jordan, is a true freshman and USA High School All-American who played for the Lowland Rugby Club and is the third leading try-scorer for the Cougars this year with 10.
"It will take a unified effort on both defense and offense to win this match," said Smyth. "You can't have one without the other in this game."
Smyth, a native of Ireland, has a 243-25 record since 1991.
"We're grateful for the support we've had, especially in that championship game against Cal. Hopefully, we'll play better and finish better this time."
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