BYU rugby wins Varsity Cup National Champions

BYU's rugby team defeated the Cal Bears 27-24 in the first ever Varsity Cup National Championship at home on Saturday. The Cougars and Bears traded blows throughout the match, and with the game tied at 24 as time wound down, it was the quick-thinking heroics of a freshman who sealed the victory for the Cougars with no time left on the clock.

In front of a packed crowd at BYU's South Field on Saturday, BYU's rugby team looked to defend its 2012 national championship with a victory over the Bears of Cal in the first ever Varsity Cup National Championship. The Cougars came out strong and quickly went up early against Cal, a program known for being a powerhouse in college rugby.

"It was awesome!" said senior team captain Ryan Roundy. "Great respect for Cal. They're an amazing program and an amazing team."

Going into Saturday's game, the Golden Bears had won a national championship in 26 out of the past 33 seasons starting in 1980. However, the Cougars defeated the Bears 27-24 on Saturday to win their third national championship.

"The boys showed up today, and we played our game," said an excited Roundy. "Cal put us under presure and obviously put up points, which you have to expect from a great program. In the end it wasn't enough and we were fortunate to go out on top."

The Cougars dominated in the first half in the scrum and the ruck, and were able to drive the ball consistently downfield with ball control. Much of BYU's 16-10 first half lead came by way of field goals scored by freshman halfback Jonathan Lineham of Auckland, New Zealand.

But Bears came roaring back. After BYU failed to execute on a few lineouts, the Bears quickly took advantage by driving down the field. The Bears caught the Cougars flat-footed, and down a man due to a yellow card, and were able to score a try and kick a conversion, tightening the score at 19-17.

"We knew they were going to make a run," Roundy said. "I had been watching them all year and they'll make runs. They're that kind of team. They're a good team. You never know when it's going to come. We just knew that if we kept playing our game, and kept the ball there in the second half, that our defense could hold up and we would have a chance to win there at the end."

With eight minutes left in the game, the Cougars would score a try, widening their lead. The field goal kick was missed, however, leaving the door open for the Bears to tie the game.

Cal would eventually score a try and field goal conversion with four and a half minutes left on the clock, tying the game at 24. As the game wound down, the Cougars marched downfield. If the Cougars were to win during regulation time, that was their last chance to do so.

"We had a scrum there at the five-meter line," said Roundy. "They called for me to take it at the base and go in. I took it and put my head down. The first [time] I got held up by a couple of guys."

Roundy was able to get the ball across the line but wasn't able to touch the ball down in the end zone due to three Bear defenders playing great defense by not allowing him to do so for the score. Once again Cougars and Bears lined up across from each other for another scrum. The Cougars kept pounding, but the Bears' defense stiffened.

BYU was just five meters out from scoring a try for what would be a sure victory with little-to-no time left on the clock, but Cal continued to make play after play, keeping BYU out of the end zone. It was after a tackle that the ball was kicked out of the ruck to Linehan.

"So nervous, so nervous," said a winded Linehan after the game about how he felt at that moment. "But I knew that if I played the kind of rugby that I've been playing since I could walk, since I was growing up playing rugby, I wouldn't let anything phase me."

"[Linehan] was coming in under this pressure against Cal, he played out of his mind," said Roundy. "He's going to have a great career here at BYU. I'm very proud of him."

With no time left on the clock, and the Cal Bears looking to defend the goal line, Linehan received the pass and ran wide right, then did something no one was expecting – not even the Bears, who were backing up about five meters to defend the end zone. Linehan dropped the ball off the ground then kicked it right.

"I asked the ref with about 10 minutes to go," said Linehan. "I said, ‘Hey, is the clock spot on?' He said it was about a minute off, so I knew we had a bit of time after the clock expired. We got right out in front of the post and I thought, ‘Hey, nothing was on out wide, so we're going to have a stab at it.' Right after the kick I was celebrating, but I looked over and [was] making sure the ref was going to blow the whistle before I really started celebrating."

"Johnny saw some space and called for it in backs," said Roundy. "He did a drop kick! What a clutch kick. It was an awesome play."

It was one of the gutsiest and most heads-up plays ever performed by a BYU rugby player. The ball sailed through the uprights as stunned Cal players could do nothing but watch. The game was over. BYU had won 27-24.

"Well, I don't score many tries, so it was pretty special," said an excited Linehan. "I guess I was lucky enough to get the bounce. It's pretty risky trying to get those kicks through but it paid off, you know."

"It was awesome! It was awesome," Roundy said with a smile stretching across his face. "I just looked up and saw the ball sail through. Then I saw the ref blow the whistle. I couldn't believe we just beat Cal. It was awesome!"

Linehan guessed right and timed the kick perfectly. Once the ball sailed through the goal post, the ref blew the whistle, and BYU had just won a second consecutive national title. BYU rugby players and Cougar fans alike stormed the field from both ends, meeting in the middle for a pandemonium-filled celebration.

"It was quite scary and I was scared for my life. Everyone was jumping on me," said Linehan while laughing. "Everyone was jumping on me and I was like, ‘I can't breathe!' and no one could hear me because it was so loud.

"Seriously, the moment wouldn't have been as great if we weren't as a team and as brothers, so we did this as a team, so we celebrated as a team and as brothers. It was special for me to see brothers running towards each other, and that's what we put in the hard work for until the final whistle blew. It's so special to me and it's such a blessing to be here at Brigham Young University."

During the trophy ceremony, Lineham was awarded the game MVP. The freshman from New Zealand who drop-kicked the winning goal on a heads-up play expects more to come.

"To be honest, my goal is never to lose a national championship at BYU," said Linehan. "Some people might say that's crazy, but with the team that we have, the coaching staff that we have and the heart that we have, we can do it. So, I expect three more by the time I'm finished."

For Roundy, the dramatic victory over Cal as time expired was a fitting way to end his BYU rugby career.

"It just put a great cap on my college career and season," said Roundy. "That was my major last check I needed to check in my college career was to beat Cal. To do it for a national championship in front of family and friends who came out to support me was an amazing feeling. I couldn't ask for something more."

Side note

As the team and fans were celebrating in the middle of the field, Luke Mocke's girlfriend came running out onto the field to celebrate with him. That's when he took the opportunity to propose to her.

During the press conference after the game, Linehan announced to the media that Mocke got engaged right after the Cougar victory.

"Yeah man, I won twice today!" Mocke said as he was congratulated by seniors Ray Forrester and Ryan Roundy.

Congratulations to the Cougars of BYU for winning the first Varsity Cup National Championship.

Press Conference Audio

Coach Smyth, Ray Forrester, Ryan Roundy, Luke Mocke and game MVP Jonathan Linehan spoke at the press conference following BYU's 27-24 victory over Cal.

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