Coug Trio Pounds Opponents as American Eagles

BYU stormed back onto the national rugby scene with an undefeated regular season performance. The Cougars rolled through the playoffs before falling to 22-time national champion Cal-Berkeley in the national title game. This weekend, three BYU players will represent U.S. in the Churchill Cup.

The United States' American Eagles rugby team will be one of six teams participating in the Barclay's Churchill Cup tournament. The tournament will feature three pool-play matches scheduled at Santa Clara's Buck Shaw Stadium. Three starters on the U.S. team will be BYU Cougars.

"The competition is called the Churchill Cup," said BYU rugby Assistant Coach and Club President Justen Nadauld. "It's Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada, England and also the New Zealand Maori are playing in it. It's not the All Blacks team but they're pretty close to the All Blacks."

Manning a starting spot on the Eagles' roster will be former BYU Cougars Salesi Sika, Alipate Tuilevuka and Jeff Hullinger.

"Three [BYU] guys are starting for USA against Ireland," said Coach Nadauld. "This is the Ireland A Team so it's not their World Cup team but every Irish player on the team is a professional from overseas.

"Salesi Sika [6-foot-3, 240-pounds] will be playing and he was our team captain. He was our [BYU] center, number 13. Sika has been an Eagle for the past three years, so he's been a known entity. They know him and he's been a good player for them.

BYU rugby Head Coach David Smyth agrees with Nadauld's assessment of former BYU Cougar Salesi Sika.

"Salesi Sika has been an Eagle for about three years," said Smyth. "He's been on the squad and has been invited back as one of the veteran players. He brings experience to the team and a high level of athletic ability and he's a good strong powerful runner. He's someone the national team has liked for a long time."

Joining Sika will be 6-foot-4, 230-pound former Cougar center/fly half Alipate Tuilevuka.

"He basically got picked on his performance for playing with BYU this past college season and then the [North American] Four Tournament in Canada," said Coach Smyth. "This was a tournament for two weeks with all-star players. He made it through that and made it as a selection for the American Eagles. He's a big boy and a good strong runner and has some nice skills. They like what he brings to the team."

The third Cougar to make the American Eagles is 5-foot-11, 185-pound wing Jeff Hullinger who received all-American status this year after only playing rugby for a year and a half.

"Hullinger just started playing rugby about a year and a half ago," said Coach Nadauld. "We found him at the football tryouts. We asked Coach Tidwell if we could come to the walk-on tryouts and he said we could. We just went over there and watched the tryouts and tried to stay out of the way, and after it was all over they picked who they wanted and then they let us talked to whoever they didn't pick and Jeff was one of the guys they didn't pick.

"He's really fast and has great balance. We talked to him and a couple of other guys that fall and picked him up and taught him how to play so he's only played for a year and a half. Now he's a collegiate all-American this year and playing for the Eagles. He played at the N.A. Four Tournament and he played well there so they picked him up for the USA team. It's pretty exciting stuff."

"Hullinger is a kid that only been playing rugby for just over a year," said Coach Smyth. "He's come onto the team and has really taken the game by storm. He's really quick and is a good tackler. He's very skillful even though he's only been playing for a short time. He was chosen based on his performance at Brigham Young University as well as for his performance during the all-star tournament. The USA national coaches have taken a good look at them and felt they had talent and invited onto the team to represent America."

Following play against the Irish and New Zealand teams, the USA Eagles will head to Toronto and Ottawa, Canada to play England, Scotland and the Canadian team on June 17th where they hope to finish above last year's third place performance.

Recently, Coach Smyth was asked to be the head coach for the collegiate all-American Team. He will be involved in the naming and selection process of America's top college rugby players.

"He got asked for that about two weeks ago," said Coach Nadauld. "He'll be going to Bolder, Colorado next week to watch all the college all-stars play in a tournament. He and about five other coaches that will be assistant coaches will be selecting for the all-American team, and then they'll go up into Canada and play them at the end of August."

"Not the weekend but next weekend I'll be heading up to Colorado for the collegiate all-star tournament there, so myself along with four or five selectors will pick an All-American Team," said Coach Smyth. "We'll probably name around 35 kids as all-Americans and 15 as Honorable Mention. Then in the month of August we'll go up to Canada to play against players from Canadian Universities. It will be the all-American team against the all-Canadian teams.

"The three boys from BYU that are playing on the American Eagles team will be eligible for that team as well, so they'll be involved in it. Then there will be four other BYU guys that will be involved in the All-Star Tournament next week in Colorado. Those four BYU guys stand a chance to be picked as all-Americans and could be in that upcoming series against Canada. They'll all be back at BYU next year."

The four current BYU rugby players participating for the USA All-American team will play a big part in BYU's continued success next season.

"We've got Derek Smith [5-foot-11, 250 pounds] who is a prop and will be back and you've got Craig Clark [6-foot-5, 230 pounds] who plays lock. Then you've got Ikani Taumoepeau [6-foot-3, 220 pounds] who is a number eight. Then you've got Taylor Kjar [6-foot, 185] who is a center and they'll all return to BYU next year. They're all return missionaries as well."

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