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While there are a variety of reasons why St. Mary's, the small Catholic college in Moraga, Calif., is ranked #1 by RUGBYMag.com, the main reason is that the Gaels beat BYU 30-24 on February 15, putting much of college rugby in a tizzy.


The loss was a sting for BYU, which had come out of the Red Rock tournament hardly scored upon, and whose defense has remained largely unsullied since. But it was a sting at a good time, jolting the players out of any haze of overconfidence they might have held onto. It was also a result with caveats: BYU was on the road; BYU hadn't played a full 80-minute game yet; BYU was still trying to figure out who should play where.

All of these factors boild down to one simple statement put forth by St. Mary's Head Coach Tim O'Brien: "It's pretty much the same St. Mary's team, but it will be a very, very different BYU team on Saturday."

Different how? In players.

"We tried some players in a few spots and blooded some guys, and some of them didn't perform the way we needed," BYU Head Coach David Smyth told RUGBYMag.com. "We are young in some areas, and we have some players we're hoping will put their hands up and say 'this is my spot.'"

So, personnel is changed. Mostly in the forwards, where St. Mary's won the February 15 game. Captain Kyle Sumsion has to take charge in the back row, and beside him, likely, will be former Highland HS star Kody Thompson, who, Smyth said, would acknowledge he didn't have his best game against St. Mary's.

Thompson will be eager to become more of a factor. Up front, sophomore prop Steve Saia is new to rugby and has all sorts of potential. He is still easing into the game, but will be more polished this time around.

For St. Mary's, Bubba Jones came to the sideline in his team's last game and remarked casually that, back then, before he scored a try, he might have broken his hand. He was right.

The Gaels will make a few small changes, but nothing drastic. They, too, have new blood, with both props only a year into playing. Yet they outscrummed BYU last time ...

"They were the better team in the scrum on the day," said Smyth. "We have some new guys and we're working with them. Our lineouts were very average as well. We needed to be more physical and more accurate at the breakdown."

Translation - Cougars got schooled up front. They won't be again.

"We need to be a lot more physical," said Smyth.

"You know BYU is coming out with all guns blazing," added O'Brien. "Most games in college rugby can be very physical. And it's something that you don't see on TV or webcast that you do see in person. You can prepare yourself physically - take care of your body, be in the weight room, get enough sleep, eat the right things. All of these things you have to do in November to be ready to play BYU in March. But you also have to have the mentality. Our guys are working very, very hard, but they also hsve the mentality."

At the same time, St. Mary's is often best at avoiding major contact and keeping the ball free-flowing. Maybe that's the game plan.

Speaking of game plans ...

"Our game plan against them last time was wrong," said Smyth of BYU's approach in February. "We will come at them a little differently."

He didn't say how.


And then there's luck, or is it history?

O'Brien said there was a bit of luck involved in his team's success February 15.

"Our guys did a commendable job, but we did catch them right off the bus."

And then there's the stat quoted (but essentially unverifiable) that BYU has never lost at home. South Field will be packed, that's for sure. Everyone loves a winner, but everyone love a good game, too.

The St. Mary's v BYU game will be streamed live on BYU's YouTube Channel.

Broadcast starts at noon Pacific Time, 1pm Mountain Saturday, March 8.