BYU is certainly heavily-favored this weekend as they host the Bruins of UCLA in the D1-A Quarterfinals.
The Cougars have won all of their league games, including a 99-12 evisceration of Colorado that was indeed an indication of how well they are playing.
“Colorado was a solid team in a lot of areas,” said BYU Head Coach David Smyth. “I think we had our best game of the season. We wanted to establish some depth, but tactically I thought we played very well.”
Captain Ryan Roundy agreed.
“I thought it came together,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “We did a lot better holding onto the ball and not trying to force things. We didn’t give up dumb turnovers, we took it into contact when we needed to stayed on our feet when we could.”
So BYU is feeling strong. They have outstanding players. They beat St. Mary’s earlier this season in a friendly, a team that beat UCLA by a clear margin.
UCLA Head Coach Scott Stewart said last week he just wants his players to embrace the moment and keep competing. Everyone knows it will be hard.
But foregone conclusions have tripped up teams before.
“We’re not looking ahead to anyone, we’re concerned with playing this week against UCLA,” said Roundy. “Now that finals have ended we’ve started running every morning, putting in an extra session and going on two-a-days to up our fitness. We might pull back a little, but the intensity is up in practice, we know this is upping the ante. We have no more school stress weighing us down and we can just concentrate on this game – which is win or go home.”
Very simple. Roundy is a central figure for this BYU team. He leads the defensive intensity and has as good a turn of speed as any back-rower in the college game. With the front row punishing their opposition, and the center paring of Paul Lasika and Hoseki Kofe working well together, this is a team that has almost all the weapons.
Roundy says he feels better than he has all season. Nagging ankle injuries, a by-product of his broken ankle last summer, have gone, and he says the rest of the team is also feeling healthy, strong, and excited for what’s to come.
Two other key players are looking at the end of their five-year careers at BYU. Shaun Davies (who will return for fall 7s) and Dylkan Lubbe have been scrumhalf and flyhalf since 2008.
“We have been spoiled for four or five years with Shaun and Dylan at those positions,” said Smyth. “Yes it is sad to see them go, but we have some work to do. We have relied on them heavily.”
But you can’t get too sentimental. It’s about winning a rugby game, after all.
“We have no doubt about the road forward. It goes through UCLA, so we are concerned with that.”