BYU rugby championship preview: familiar, but different

By BYU Rugby

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 12:51 p.m. MDT

BYU scrumhalf Shaun Davies will look to spur the Cougars attack this Saturday night against Arkansas State.

Paul Meyers

We'll be live streaming the College Division I-AA and Division II rugby championships from Rio Tinto Stadium on Friday and Saturday. Check the schedule here.

PROVO, Utah — As the BYU Cougars prepare for their 7th consecutive national championship game Saturday night against Arkansas State, they find the season-ending scenario comfortably familiar, but strangely different.

The Cougars haven't ended their season outside of the championship bout since 2006, but in each title tilt since then, BYU has faced off with Cal Berkeley.

This season, however, the Bears opted to forego participation in college rugby's top division. Therefore, they won't be facing the Cougars in what has become a running rivalry that has delivered some of college rugby's most compelling matches over the last six clashes.

"It will be a little strange," said BYU scrumhalf Shaun Davies, who has played in BYU's last four national title matches against Cal, "But [Cal] dropping out has never changed our goals for this season. We've been there before and we want to win no matter who we play."

Despite being the Red Wolves' first appearance in the national championship, Arkansas State isn't a newcomer to the Cougars, or to top-level rugby.

ASU has been a regular contender since first taking on the Cougars in the 2009 quarterfinals — the Red Wolves held a 3-0 lead over BYU at halftime.

But two late tries and a final score of 13-3 by the Cougars propelled BYU on to their first national championship two weeks later.

In 2010, ASU fought hard but had the odds stacked against them as they squared off with Cal in their semifinal match and lost 83-37.

In last year's semifinal, the Red Wolves held an early 8-0 lead in the 15th minute before BYU clawed back to beat ASU.

"They're a very a solid team and have contended every year for a while now," said BYU head coach David Smyth regarding the ASU Red Wolves, "They're savvy and they've had an even harder road than we've had to get here, so you know they're firing on all cylinders."

ASU has fought hard to earn their right to the 2012 championship beating Eastern Conference champs Army in West Point 36-20 and then traveling to the other coast and Moraga, Calif. the next weekend and beat Pacific Conference champ St. Mary's 34-17.

After finishing as the Mid-South runner-up to Life University, which BYU beat in last week's semifinal 26-20, the Red Wolves know playing BYU in Rio Tinto Stadium will be a very tough task.

"We expect one of the best BYU teams ever, which is saying a lot," ASU head coach Matt Huckaby said, "I expect nothing short of a classic ASU-BYU nail biter and we are looking forward to the test."

Despite BYU facing their first different opponent in the title match, the Cougars know the environment and excitement for the game will be as intense as ever.

"We've had this day marked on the calendar for a long time now," said BYU captain Ryan Roundy, "It's finally here and we're excited to play in front of a big and loud BYU crowd."

With a season that has included wins over rival Utah, two men's division teams, a Western Conference Championship and an intense 26-20 semifinal against Life in Marietta, Georgia, BYU's Smyth knows the finale to the Cougars' season will be a battle.

"In championship games you can throw out all the past results," he said, "It just comes down to who plays better on the day. We are looking forward to a great game and giving everything we have against a team that we know will do the same."

Kick-off for the momentous clash between the Cougars and Red Wolves is set for 7.30pm MT this Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

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