BYU rugby fans made a strong showing at the Varsity Cup Final between their Cougars and the Cal Golden Bears.
And once again, I came to Rio Tinto Stadium early to spend some time looking for great fans. I’m glad to report that I was not disappointed.
One of the most interesting fan interviews of the afternoon was from Curnel Saluone. I asked him which team he was supporting.
“BYU. Did I say BYU?” Saluone after a brief pause.
You see, Saluone isn’t your average BYU rugby fan: “We’re Utah fans, but today I think we’ll go for BYU.”
That’s not something you see everyday.
“We like BYU Rugby and Utah Football,” Saluone explained. “We just came to see some great rugby, and both teams are very solid.”
It seems that rugby can even transcend the rivalry. Well, for one game at least.
Speaking of the rivalry, the battle for the Wasatch Cup was what got Andrew Doman into the game.
“My first game was the Wasatch Cup in 2008,” Doman said with a smile. “I’ve been to every home rugby game since. The Wasatch Cup will get anybody into rugby.”
Doman’s wife Tiffany also enjoys the sport.
“I go for the action. I enjoy people hitting each other. I enjoy the violence,” she said.
Her husband quickly added, “As long as no one gets hurt.”
“It’s always exciting,” Tiffany continued. “Even when a team is down 20 points you’re never bored at the game.”
The Domans have enjoyed BYU Rugby’s rise in popularity.
“The last couple of years rugby has exploded at BYU,” Andrew said. “It’s just exciting. You come to a game an it’s just constant entertainment and constant action.”
He also encouraged people unfamiliar with the sport to join in the fun.
“It’s pretty easy to get,” he said. “It takes a while, but you can ask people, and the announcers on the sideline do a good job of explaining. So, it makes it easier for people to pick it up.”
He also has great respect for Cal Rugby.
“Cal is amazing. They’ve won almost all the national championships, and it’s good to see BYU start to compete with them. Every game for the last five years has been a one-score game, so Cal is just scary. At least BYU is able to beat them, but it isn’t always a given. The game is competitive with them.”
Cal supporter Mark Tenney likewise has respect for BYU.
“It’s a strong rivalry,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of respect on both sides. It’s pretty neat to see them meet year after year in these championships.”
Tenney was also impressed with the growth of rugby in the state of Utah.
“Here in Utah especially it has grown, which has been fun to see,” he said. “BYU’s program and Utah’s program are gaining national prominence. It’s led to better rivalries.”
Former BYU rugby player Mike Hendren also had good things to say about the BYU vs. Cal rivalry.
“Cal has been the big dog for many years,” he said. “When you look at it, BYU is the only school that’s been able to challenge them.”
Amazing how the sport has grown since Hendren played for the Cougars in 1991: “It was a club sport, and we were worried we would even be able to stay together,” he said thinking back.
Hendren has watched this program grow from a club sport to a championship program.
“When you have success, you bring fans,” he told me. “The program has a lot of dedicated people. Coach (David) Smyth was an assistant when I played. That longevity translated to a strong tradition that’s built over the years.”
When asked about why people should come watch rugby, he laughed. “If you want to see guys that are hitting hard, having fun and playing the ‘gentleman’s game,’ this is what you come to see,” he said with a smile.
BYU fans were not disappointed as they watched their Cougars defeat Cal, 43-33, for their third consecutive national title. The crowd cheered loud and proud for their team all game long.
Once again, thanks to all who spent the time to talk with me. Fans are truly awesome.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.