BYU rugby: Looking back over a successful 2014 season

By Kelby Jones

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 8 2014 1:35 p.m. MDT

In total the Cougars tallied collegiate victories over three top-five ranked teams (St. Mary's, California and Navy) and four wins over other top-20 ranked teams (Utah, Arizona State, Cal Poly SLO and Dartmouth). These wins coupled with a few other victories prove BYU's 2014 resume is as solid as any other collegiate program's resume.

Looking back on the 18-1 record Smyth said he saw a solid team from the beginning of the season but that it took a while for the coaches and players to build their own identity and culture.

“We knew we were going to have a solid team collectively this year,” Smyth said. “But we also knew we're going to lack in some areas up front, so it took a while to figure out the exact combinations and personnel that we were going to have to lean on when the postseason began. But I think once we sorted that out and the players were able to get to know their roles, then we started building and playing some good rugby.”

When asked which moment this seasoned hinged on, Smyth left no doubt in saying the early season loss to St. Mary’s.

“We were still finding ourselves in February,” he said. “And they beat us straight up. But it was one of those losses that you’re glad to have as a coach because it made our guys open their eyes a bit and you could see them change their demeanor and how they prepared from that day forward. We beat St. Mary’s solidly when they came back to Provo and we kept building from there.”

With a 44-1 record against college competition in the last three seasons, the Cougars are looking to carve out the claim of being one of college rugby’s elite programs and building on this season’s successes, including their fourth national title.

“We don’t anticipate any drop off,” BYU assistant coach Wayne Tarawhiti said. “The guys were back in the gym on Monday getting ready for next year. So we’ll go about getting ourselves set up on and off the pitch as a coaching staff during this offseason and it’s our expectation that we keep raising the bar higher every year.”

Since the college rugby playoffs were moved from a Sunday play format in 2004, the Cougars have consistently lived up to Tarawhiti’s statement and improved their standing and results.

In addition to programmatic success, the BYU rugby program has helped develop rugby players for future international and professional honors. Since 2001, BYU has produced 33 All-Americans, eight National Team members and two former professional rugby players. The Cougars continue to attract top level rugby players from across America and because of the LDS faith’s worldwide footprint, many international rugby players seek out BYU as their university of choice to pursue a college degree while also playing the sport they love.

Smyth acknowledged the Cougars’ recent success has seen an increased level of interest from student-athletes across the globe but more importantly in his own backyard of Utah.

“The game has grown significantly here in Utah over the past five years,” Smyth said. “It’s no longer hundreds of kids playing rugby, but it’s literally thousands and that’s growing in number every year. Plus the age is dropping from the first time a player picks up a rugby ball from their teenage years to when they’re five or six. And that’s a big boost for us and the future of our program. Couple this with our natural national and international recruiting footprint and we’re cautiously optimistic with the future of the players we’ll be able to attract to BYU giving us depth and versatility as a team.”

This year’s roster is an example of the upward trending depth Smyth continues to see.

“Ten years ago we had a small pool of players to draft our starting team from,” he said. “But we had a greater number of options, especially in our backline, to pull from this year. We had former high school All-Americans fighting for first XV time against All-Americans and National Team members just because we’re attracting a higher caliber of athlete. And these are all good problems. The balance will come in managing all levels of player development moving forward with more meaningful playing opportunities and training.”

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