Church News and Events

BYU Rugby Successfully Defends National Title

Contributed By By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 30 May 2014

BYU celebrates their win over Cal in the Varsity Cup rugby championship at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, May 3, 2014. BYU won 43-33.  Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.


Sports fans love to use the word “dynasty” when their favorite teams consistently win championships over an extended period.

By almost any standard, Brigham Young University’s men’s rugby team can legitimately be called a sports dynasty. On May 3, the team won its third straight national championship and second straight Varsity Cup Championship at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

The Cougars defeated collegiate rugby power California–Berkeley in the title game 43-33.

“The season was a huge success,” BYU head coach David Smyth told the Deseret News. “Our main priority was obviously to defend our championship, and we did that. I couldn’t be more proud of the work our players put into this season in order to help us win the Varsity Cup again.”

The Cougars and the Cal Bears have become one of college rugby’s most vaunted rivalries. The two squads have met in the championship game eight of the last nine years.

Assistant Coach Kimball Kjar told the Church News that the Cougars’ success could be attributed to the quality of young men who fill the roster each season.

“It all comes down to the kids—they really do personify the term ‘student-athlete,’” he said.

From left, BYU’s Ara Elkington (#7) and Joe Pikula (#17) tackle Cal’s Jack O'Beirne as he runs into BYU’s Johnny Linehan during the Varsity Cup rugby championship at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, May 3, 2014. BYU won 43-33. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

From left, Cal’s Eakalafi Okusi and Alec Gletzer tackle BYU’s Kyle Sumsion during the Varsity Cup rugby championship at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, May 3, 2014. BYU’s Joe Pikula is on the right (#17). Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

The rugby team is a club sport at BYU, so team members are not awarded athletic scholarships. Athletes have to pay their own way at the school or find other ways to finance their tuition. Still, said Coach Kjar, they play year after year because they love the game, enjoy the competition, and feel honored to represent the Church-owned BYU.

The men’s rugby team may be the most culturally diverse athletic program on campus. Team members hail not only from across the United States but also from rugby power nations such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Canada, England, Australia, and the island nations of Polynesia.

Despite their national differences, this year’s rugby team found unity in their collective faith. Twenty-three players were rostered for the recent national championship game. All 23 are returned missionaries.

There are also a handful of husbands and fathers on the team.

A former BYU rugby player himself, Coach Kjar has seen tremendous growth in the school’s program over the past decade. The team hosts camps each summer for potential recruits and top rugby players from across the globe who are well aware of the team’s legacy of success.

Rugby has also become increasingly popular on the BYU campus. The team plays its home games on the school’s pristine South Field in front of loyal, rugby-savvy fans. “We’ve still never lost to another college team on South Field,” said Coach Kjar.

More than 10,000 people attended the May 3 national championship game.

Coach Kjar added that the future’s bright for BYU rugby. Only two players graduated from the championship team.