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A Heated Rivalry In The Making: BYU at CWU

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A Heated Rivalry In The Making: BYU at CWU

CWU and BYU have a good rivalry going. AW Ride photo.

One of the most intriguing rankings games this weekend in D1A Rugby will be BYU at Central Washington.

The reason this is a big deal because neither team has played a huge amount of rugby this spring. With BYU’s almost-win against Saint Mary’s (on the road), and CWU beating Arizona (also on the road), and the teams ranked #7 and #12, respectively, this game could go a long way toward telling us where they stand. 

If either team wins big, you could make a strong argument to put that team in the D1A Top 5. 

BYU is coming off a 25-24 loss to Saint Mary’s in which the Gaels got one more chance to score right at the death thanks to a very, very short advantage on a knock-on. Observers (including the referee) agree that BYU probably should have received a scrum on that play, and with that scrum could have kicked clear and ended the up up 24-20. But Saint Mary’s took the ensuing lineout and mauled over for the game-winning try.

Certainly the Saint Mary’s scrum is strong enough that the other scenario isn’t a guarantee, but still it was a tough loss for BYU to take.

“It was hard,” said BYU Head Coach Steve St. Pierre. “Our guys played so well and played so tough, especially how last year went for us against Saint Mary’s. I was very proud of the performance of our team. We played far from a perfect game, but the commitment and the attitude from our guys was markedly better.”

But, added St. Pierre, they were still in a position to win it.

“We still had the opportunity to close it out,” said St. Pierre. “We had a chance to stop them and didn’t. We learned a lot about handling the pressure of the moment and reacting to disappointment and getting the job done.”

OK then, that’s the past, and the future is this weekend.

“Playing at Central Washington will be a good trip for us,” said St. Pierre. “It will be a tough, physical game against a strong team and a good opprtunity for us on the road.”

Leading the way this season is captain Tosh Wilcox at loose forward, but he’s not along. Lock James Mocke has been excellent this season, charging through tackles and getting the set piece right. Sam Roberts had a big game against Saint Mary’s on the flank, while scrumhalf Dylan Parry is starting to take control of the attack.

Facing the Cougars are the Wildcats of Central Washington. CWU were disappointed in their last fixture, too. The University of Utah backed out of their planned game, despite a written commitment to play. 

“It’s a shame,” said CWU Head Coach Todd Thornley. “But we’ve got enough teams that do want to travel up here. We’re excited for another challenge. Last year we had a great battle with BYU down there. So I am interested to see if we have learned some thing.”

Of the 15 who played at BYU last March and lost 24-17, 13 return for this weekend.

“We’ll see if we can play good enough rugby to get a win,” said Thornley. 

Central’s improvement is linked to its front row. Australian freshman Aiden Latter is from the stories Joey’s HS program (St. Joseph’s College), which has produced so many Wallabies. Despite being so young, Latter is a talent at tighthead prop and a leader. Another leader is Brian Nault, a former HS All American at No. 8, Nault has become another impressive leader at prop. 

And at hooker, “Tristen Keys is a guy not many have heard of, and he gives us something special, something different.”

Formerly a center in high school, Keys is athletic and aggressive.

With Diego Damian-Hernandez, Jonah Auvaa, and Ivan Pula on the bench, they have six very good front-rowers who can start and finish.

This weekend’s game has a special meaning. The Central Washington rugby programs will be hosting some Learn Rugby sessions for students.

“Students get some pizza and a T-shirt and we’re showing them some rugby things,” said Thornley. “Hopefully they’ll learn a bit more about the game, and with everyone being pretty excited about BYU coming to campus, we hope to see a lot of them at the game on Saturday at Tomlinson Stadium.

And maybe they’ll see someone make a case for a much higher ranking.