The 2014 Varsity Cup National Championship, which is played Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, will feature a rematch between defending champion BYU and runner-up Cal. The Cougars are looking to capture their fourth national championship in their ninth straight attempt.
“Both of these teams have had very good seasons and it seems fitting that we’ll be meeting again in the Varsity Cup Final,” BYU head coach David Smyth said. “Our boys have prepared all season for Saturday’s game and will spend this week fine tuning our play in practice in anticipation of an incredibly talented and well-coached California team.”
BYU and California last met in the inaugural Varsity Cup National Championship last year on South Field in Provo. BYU won late on Jonny Linehan’s drop goal in injury time to edge the Golden Bears, 27-24. With this Saturday’s match up, BYU and California will have met in eight of the last nine national championships, with the lone exception being in 2012 when BYU beat Arkansas State for its second title.
"We’re very familiar with California seeing as how we’ve played them at the end of every season in recent memory,” Smyth said. “We know how good they are and always look forward to the challenge they present to us. It’s really college rugby at its finest.”
Overall, California has a 7-2 record against BYU dating back to 1983. The Golden Bears are led by head coach Jack Clark, who owns a 559-71-5 record over 31 years along with 22 national championships, and Golden Bears captain Seamus Kelly, who joined BYU captain Kyle Sumsion on the USA National Rugby Team in qualifiers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
"Coach Clark has been coaching rugby for a long time, and when he is able to work with a player like Kelly, you get a team that is going to be hard to beat,” Sumsion said. “All we can do is work our hardest, put in a good week of practice and use everything we’ve learned over this season to try and come out on top.”
BYU has only one loss on the year, which came at the hands of Saint Mary’s back on Feb. 15. Since then, the Cougars have gone on a tear, winning 11 straight games on their way to the Varsity Cup Final.
This season’s highlighted victories saw a 35-21 rematch victory over St. Mary’s in March, a 45-33 win over 2013 men’s division champions San Francisco Golden Gate and the 41-21 point retention of the Wasatch Cup by beating rival Utah.
Since then the Cougars have barreled through the Varsity Cup playoffs beating Dartmouth, 70-15, and the Naval Academy, 60-0, in subsequent weeks.
While many would call 2014 a successful year, Sumsion knows a third straight national championship was and always has been the team’s main goal.
“We’re exactly where we’ve wanted to be since the end of last year’s championship,” Sumsion said. “Anything less than playing for a championship would have been a disappointment for this team. We’ve worked too hard and are too talented to have come short of that goal.”
While Rio Tinto Stadium is considered a neutral site, the Cougars won’t have to travel far for the match. The stadium is roughly a 40-minute drive from BYU’s campus in Provo, which vice captain Jonny Linehan believes should be an advantage for the Cougars.
“The atmosphere at our home games has been electric all season long,” Linehan said. “Hopefully we can get as many, if not more of our regular fans to drive up and watch the match and then use the energy they bring to help us bring it home.”
The 2014 Varsity Cup National Championship will kick off at 2:00 p.m. MDT, and will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network. Those who aren’t able to view the game can follow the action live via Twitter.
Kelby Jones is a student at BYU studying public relations and currently writes for BYU Rugby.