Provo, UT–BYUtv’s Jarom Jordan caught up with BYU head coach David Smyth on the eve of the Cougars releasing their 2013 schedule.
BYUtv: Coming off your program’s second national title last year your team graduated a number of players that included scrum half Shaun Davies, fly half Dylan Lubbe and fan favorite Mikey Su’a. How are you seeing this year’s team come together and who do you see stepping into the shoes of your many graduated All-Americans?
Smyth: Obviously, we’ll miss those young men who contributed greatly to the success of the BYU rugby program. We certainly wish them them well. College rugby presents you with these challenges on a yearly basis. We have a cycle where each year you have to rebuild, some years more so than others. So, here we are again, but we’ve been here before – we have other young men who will come through and grasp the opportunity. I’m confident that they will excel just as those who went before them did. Our job as coaches is to help them succeed in their new roles as expeditiously as possible.
BYUtv: Coming off your program’s second national title last year, BYU announced its departure from USA Rugby’s post-season play. Can you explain for the alumni and fans what that means?
Smyth: Simply put, it means we won’t be competing in the USAR playoffs. It’s not a decision we arrived at quickly or without looking at as many of the variables as we could.
BYUtv: Also, can you tell us what were some of the considerations that led to this decision for your program?
Smyth: A number of factors went into the decision-making process to go in a different direction for the post-season. The radical changes in the structure of the CPD, a crumbling western conference, our historic rivalries with Utah and Cal, the advent of the PAC and other conferences, academic requirements, and playoff expense all played a part.
BYUtv: For the last few years BYU has competed in a conference context, guaranteeing regular home-and-away fixtures. How does the scheduling of games change now that BYU is essentially an “independent” rugby program?
Smyth: It means that we have to go back to where we were two years ago. At that time we had a two-team conference: Utah and BYU. Every other game on the schedule was a non-conference match, where we scheduled teams from other conferences who wanted to play us. Often, we included Division 1 and Super League club teams on our schedule as well to give our boys an extra challenge or two. Our plan is to continue to play against many of the top college teams out there while maintaining the relationships that we have developed over the years and adding a few new ones. We’ll likely to spice up the schedule with home and away matches with high-quality senior men’s club teams who want play us.
BYUtv: The 2013 schedule has four of the top men’s division program’s playing your young team, highlighted by the Champions’ Challenge featuring your team against last year’s championship men’s team New York Athletic Club. What was the intent behind such a lofty schedule?
Smyth: The game with New York Athletic Club is designed to pit the defending collegiate champion against the best men’s club team. It’s something that has attracted national attention in the past so we thought it would be good to do it again. It will be a huge challenge for our team, but one that we will be all the better for!
Serevi Rugby approached us during the summer about partnering with them to conduct a youth rugby clinic in Utah for the upcoming season. This sort of alliance can be an important tool in helping the sport grow, so we were keen to help. As a part of the clinic, it was decided that BYU and Old Puget Sound Beach would play an exhibition game as a highlight of the camp. This again is, of course, another huge challenge, one that we experienced last year in Seattle, and a great learning experience for our boys.
Our game against the Denver Barbarians is a annual fixture and a highlight on the schedule for both teams. It’s a great opportunity for both teams to get a run out before the regular season begins. We’ve enjoyed our relationship with the Barbos and it only makes sense to keep it going!
Finally, this year we have been able to add the Las Vegas Blackjacks. This fixture has been on our schedule in previous years but was canceled due to bad weather or other conflicts. Fortunately, this year we we’ll be able to make it happen.
So yes, the schedule is hugely challenging! Often times you can come out on the wrong side of the ledger score-wise in these competitions, but the things that the boys can learn from these games can and do have a huge impact from a developmental standpoint. At the end of the day, we are trying to mold players and a team that can excel in a high-pressure and competitive environment!
BYUtv: The annual Wasatch Cup rivalry game between BYU and Utah has been expanded to a two-game, home-and-away, series. How does this change the dynamic of this long-standing and exciting rivalry with the Utes?
Smyth: It’s hard to characterize the intensity of the BYU VS. Utah rivalry to “outsiders.” It’s been a central focus for our team literally for decades. The host always has a great advantage with the crowd intensity driving on the home team. This year, we’ve been able to structure a home-and-home series with the total point score deciding possession of the cup. This not only cancels out the home-field advantage, but gives BYU and Utah fans a chance to see one of the best match-ups in college rugby on their home field each year.
BYUtv: BYU was part of a group of teams that led the creation of the Varsity Cup. Can you speak to the purpose the Varsity Cup and the plans for the competition itself and how it relates to the BYU Rugby program?
Smyth: The purpose of the Varsity Cup is to provide a competition that shows off the best of college rugby and is responsive to the needs of college players, administrators and fans. In the past, the championships often seemed structured for the benefit of those putting on the tournament and not necessarily of the participating teams and their fans.
BYU, as a founding member of the Varsity Cup, is putting its whole energy behind the success of the competition and plans to work tirelessly for its success.