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Saint Mary's In Control Over BYU

College Men

Saint Mary's In Control Over BYU

Michael Geib photo.

Saint Mary’s defeated BYU 27-12 Saturday in a meeting of the #3 and #4 teams in Goff Rugby Report’s all-DI rankings, and it was a pretty impressive performance by the Gaels.

Before the game, captain Kevin O’Connor told Goff Rugby Report that his team had to play the full 80 minutes, and put a ton of defensive pressure on the Cougars. That is exactly what Saint Mary’s did.

Michael Geib photos.
Saint Mary's rugby v BYU Feb 18, 2017. Michael Geib photos.
Saint Mary's rugby v BYU Feb 18, 2017. Michael Geib photos.
Saint Mary's rugby v BYU Feb 18, 2017. Michael Geib photos.
Saint Mary's rugby v BYU Feb 18, 2017. Michael Geib photos.

The first half was played almost entirely within 40 meter of the BYU tryline, as the wet conditions, superb Saint Mary’s tackling, and BYU penalties kept the Cougars from getting anything constructed.

Saint Mary’s struck first, but they did it in part because of a play that could have gone either way.  Camped out on the BYU line the Gaels tried to move the ball quickly to the outside. BYU fullback Josh Whippy read the play and, had he intercepted the ball, would have had a clear run 98 meters the other way. He couldn’t quite get it, and instead knocked the ball on.

From that scrum, Saint Mary’s scrumhalf Holden Yungert worked a move to the right that brought in wing Chris McDonnell, who burst through the line and scored under the posts. Dylan Audsley slotted the easy conversion and less than six minutes in Saint Mary’s led 7-0.

BYU did have a long range penalty attempt from Jared Whippy, but that sailed wide. With both teams challenged to stay on their feet with the wet ground, and with the ball a little slick, Saint Mary’s did just a little bit better controlling things.

The Gaels hit very hard, led by Alec Barton and O’Connor at loose forward, hooker Nick Hryekewicz, and flyhalf Michael McCarthy, and they did a good job avoiding the high tackle penalties so prevalent today with the added scrutiny on that area of the game. Saint Mary’s tacklers brought their targets down quickly, while BYU tacklers took a little bit longer - just enough for the Gaels to ensure they had support at the breakdown.

"If you try to take the big guys up top you're going to have trouble," said O'Connor after the game. "We got into some penalty trouble earlier in the season for the tackles, so we have worked on that and worked on being physical and getting them to the ground."

After an Audsley miss on a penalty, Saint Mary’s had a kick to the corner for ?McDonnell to chase, but that didn’t quite come off. Eventually, defending a counter-attack, the Cougars forwards were a mile and a half offside, and Audsley hit the kick for a 10-0 lead.

The Cougars looked a little undercooked, and certainly haven’t played as much rugby as Saint Mary’s has. It might have contributed to a small number of tactical errors, specifically, when a Saint Mary’s player was injured in open play, leaving the Gaels shorthanded, the Cougars opted to kick the ball away.

The first half ended with BYU finally getting some attacking flow going, thanks in large part to two nice runs from center Calvin Whiting, and a charge from Matt Jensen also. Josh Whippy got up a head of steam and went right for the Saint Mary’s tryline. It seemed that a try was inevitable, but Barton flew in low, made the crucial tackle, and Yungert and O'Connor were there to rip the ball away and end the half.

"He's a big guy and you can't go high on him," said O'Connor. "Alec made a great play and just chopped him down."

The physicality of the game returned in the second half. Both teams competed for just about every ball in the breakdown, and slammed into each other at the point of contact. Both teams encountered several penalties for a variety of transgressions.

As is their way, the Gaels continued to punish penalties with quick taps, always pushing the pace. In the end, the results wasn’t the flood of tries the Gaels have been getting against other opponents, but instead BYU was forced to make tackle after tackle, get up off the wet ground, and do it again. 

When they got the ball - and they got a lot more in the second half - the Cougars were usually looking at a good 85 meters to go, and had to kick much more than they want to.

Both teams suffered yellow cards. Saint Mary’s prop Payton Telea was given a ten-minute break for being offside and accidentally-on-purpose getting in the way when he was pretending to get out of the way. Despite a vigorous defense from O’Connor, Telea went off. Then BYU got an unlucky yellow card when Josh Whippy appeared to fall over in the ruck. Neither yellow card resulted in a try, but it was close. A nifty kick to the corner from McCarthy was right there for center Mike Wallace to slide onto and slide over the line. It was smart use of wet ground but, as the BYU players protested, correctly, the ball was knocked on and the Gaels had to settle for a scrum.

Still on defense, BYU got another yellow card when Jackson Kaka unwisely knocked the ball on deliberately. He was really in no position to get an interception, and the move was certainly he’d want back. Audsley slotted the three points to make it 13-0.

BYU finally got some attack going and were right down on the Saint Mary’s line for a long period. They were smart, and patient, and finally wing Tua Laei burst through for his team’s first try. They had time.

But Saint Mary’s replied. A series of punishing runs down by the tryline left at least one Cougar shaken, and resulted in a try for No. 8 Vili Helu on a pick-and-go. Audsley was good on the conversion, and it was 20-5.

With time winding down, Whippy intercepted a Saint Mary’s pass and went 80 meters all on his own. Knowing there was no time to fool around, he then drop-kicked the conversion and got ready for the final minutes. But Saint Mary’s, with Audsley squirming his way through traffic, put the pressure back on. Another penalty by BYU, and Yungert quick-tapped, and was hauled down by two players - one wasn’t ten meters back, and the other grabbed the scrumhalf’s neck. Penalty try, and that was it.

Overall, what BYU's error rate showed was that they need a bit more rugby, and that they weren’t quite as mid-season fit as they could be. Saint Mary’s have been winning blowouts, so you could forgive them for expecting the same here. Instead they got a slugfest, and played it perfectly, using field position and defense to sap BYU of energy, and moments of explosiveness to get just enough points.


Saint Mary’s 27

Tries: McDonnell, Helu, Penalty

Convs: Audsley 3

Pens: Audsley 2


BYU 10

Tries: Ja. Whippy

Convs: Ja. Whippy

Pens: Ja. Whippy