The reigning collegiate champion Cougars and the defending men’s division champion San Francisco Golden Gate squared off Saturday afternoon on South Field in Provo for the Champions Challenge. After getting off to a great start, BYU outlasted a furious Golden Gate comeback attempt and was able to hold on for the 45-33 victory.
“This has been, by far, our best performance of the season,” BYU head coach David Smyth said. “San Francisco Golden Gate is a really good team and I’m very happy with the result.”
For the third straight game, BYU allowed its opponent to open the scoring by giving up a long try to Golden Gate in the third minute. The Cougars broke through shortly after when Josh Anderson scored a try down the right sideline. Chris Wernli, John Whippy and Jared Whippy all went on to score four more first-half tries for BYU as the Cougars took a 31-7 lead into halftime.
“That first half was the best rugby we’ve played all year,” Smyth said. “Our boys played smart and really hard and things opened up for us.”
The second half turned out to be a different story for the BYU as SFGG outscored the Cougars by 12 points. Unfortunately for Golden Gate it was too little too late as BYU held on for the win.
“Before the game, we said we were going to go out and play for each other as brothers and it ended up being a really good team performance,” BYU captain Johnny Linehan said.
San Francisco Golden Gate came to South Field as one of the best men’s division teams in the country and features two national team players in its starting XV. The Cougars anticipated the size and physicality Golden Gate would bring to Saturday’s game and were able to match it en route to victory.
“San Francisco Golden Gate has more experience than we normally see,” Linehan said. “They slowed the game down, were really smart with the ball and played very physical. It really forced us to man up and make big plays.”
With the win, BYU moves to 13-1 on the season going into next week’s coveted Wasatch Cup against No. 9 Utah. BYU has won eight of its last nine games against Utah, with Utah’s sole victory coming back in 2005.
“Utah is a hungry, well coached team that is going to come here to South Field and give a good performance,” Smyth said. “We’re going to work hard this week to prepare for them and it should be a good game on Friday night.”
Following the Wasatch Cup, BYU will play its last game of the 2014 regular season in Phoenix on April 12. The Cougars will face Arizona State in the inaugural Rugby Bowl 2014 before beginning their 2014 national championship campaign in the Varsity Cup.
The Wasatch Cup against Utah begins at 7:00 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students. Those who aren’t able to attend the game can watch live via BYU rugby’s YouTube channel or follow the game on Twitter.
Kelby Jones is a student at BYU studying public relations and currently writes for BYU Rugby.