BYU rugby: Cougars will rely on New Zealanders in national title game

By Todd Hougaard

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 29 2013 9:35 a.m. MDT

BYU rugby does the haka

Paul Lasike's legs.

Jonny Linehan's foot.

Ray Forrester's back.

The haka.

All things that come from New Zealand.

All things that will help decide if the Brigham Young University Cougars take home another national championship this Saturday.

With rugby being their country's national sport, and being the current World Cup champions, New Zealanders expect a certain amount of skill from their players. BYU assistant coach Wayne Tarawhiti, also from New Zealand, says, "We expect them to be a level or two above, and that rubs off on the other players. They use that skill level to teach the others."

Lasike, BYU's star, doesn't quite see it that way.

"We have a good diversity, culture and brotherhood on the team, but we don't take it like New Zealanders are the best," he says. "We're all coaches here."

Most BYU fans would recognize Lasike in a helmet and shoulder pads over at Lavell Edwards Stadium, but those fans might want to wander over to South Field to get a glimpse of him in his more natural surroundings. Having played rugby since he was 8 or 9 reminds him more of home. "In American football, I'm a lot more hyped and nervous. There are so many plays to remember." But, he adds, "I just freakin' love running the ball — in football and rugby."

He's too humble to say it himself, but Central Washington coach Tony Pacheco says Lasike is "as good a center back as I've seen. He and Seki (Kofe) are the best center pairing in college rugby."

Lasike is quick to point out: "It's not just us two. Whenever one person succeeds, there's always others setting us up." He definitely enjoys his role though. "I love getting it in the open field. Our counterattack is one of the strengths of our team. I just know I'm not fast enough to go all the way myself." In his team's semifinal game versus Central Washington, Lasike started two breakaways in the second half with his speed, power and elusiveness. They turned a close match into a 53-20 blowout.

It wasn't all good for Lasike in that game, though, as he missed a conversion kick near the end — and will undoubtedly get razzed by teammates about it this week.

Lucky for him, there's another Kiwi the Cougars can rely on for those.

Eighteen points off of kicks by Linehan helped the Cougars Saturday, and he savors the role as the team's main kicker. "It really fires the crowd up when the kick goes in," and even though it is more nerve-wracking in front of his hometown crowd, he adds: "I'd rather be the one to win the game or lose the game."

As the fly halfback, he also plays a pivotal role in starting the offense and getting the ball out to the wings. Pacheco says, "His boot is fantastic, and he does big cut-off passes." Linehan says, "We have fast wings. Chris (Wernli) can burn anyone, any day. Those passes can be risky, but when we're on, they work great."

Linehan wasn't even at BYU until Jan. 9 of this year. Anyone out of the bidding for Ziggy Ansah's film rights might want to consider Linehan's story. After encouragement from one of his mission companions got him dreaming of playing for BYU, a trip to general conference last October with his mother and sister helped turn that dream into reality. He came, cleats in hand, for a tryout with the team. They couldn't get him here fast enough.

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