When BYU sophomore flyhalf Jonathan Linehan takes the field at Rio Tinto Stadium today for the 2014 Varsity Cup national college rugby championship against Cal, he joked he has a plan to get things off on the right foot:
"We were joking with some of the boys that when Cal shows up, I’m just going to stand there staring at them, just dropkicking," Linehan said with his trademark grin. "It’s all fun and games but maybe on one of first plays of the game, I’ll just do a dropkick to remind them."
Linehan referred to the thrilling conclusion of the 2013 Varsity Cup title contest in Provo when he used a dropkick in the final seconds to give the Cougars the 27-24 victory over the Bears.
BYU head coach David Smyth said that win over Cal, the most storied program in U.S. college rugby, makes a psychological difference for his team.
"They know they can win," Smyth said. "The boys understand that they can't just show up, that it's going to require a lot of work and effort just to put themselves in a similar situation. They know they can't take anything for granted."
But that was then and this year's battle (2 p.m. MDT, NBC Sports Network) will be another stiff test. He acknowledged that the proud Bear program might be coming in with even more of a chip on their shoulder.
"I can guarantee they aren't coming in to lose," he said. "This is an opportunity for them to fix it from last year. They're going to do everything in their power to do that."
Linehan said that this is a challenge that he loves as a rugby player.
"We respect Cal," he said. "They are a great program and it would be fun to face them. We’re excited to play them. We only get one shot if that every season and that’s when we meet them in the championship."
Smyth said he sees a different attitude when the Cougars start gearing up to face the Bears.
"This is a game -- along with the Utah game -- that they live for," the BYU head coach said. "This is what you put all that hard work in for. You want the opportunity to go against the best and see where you are really at."
He explained that he feels like his group of talented rugby players are ready for the challenge.
"I think the boys are anxious," Smyth said. "We're at the end of the season and practices have been going well. Now we're ready to get it on as far as playing the game."
Cougar junior center Paul Lasike, who, of course, is also a running back on the BYU football team, said he feels like the rugby team has built some great momentum heading into the final contest.
"Having this momentum these last two games is going to be huge going in," he said. "Hopefully we can carry it on. We’re on the front foot right now, so hopefully we can stay on it and carry this momentum into the big game."
But Cal is also coming in on a roll, although it went through some rough patches this year.
"They are skilled rugby players," Smyth said. "They had some graduations and injuries that got them somewhat unsettled, but now they are hitting their straps. They are playing really good rugby right now."
Smyth explained that one of the biggest strengths the Bears have is the legacy of their program.
"Losing is rarely an option for them," he said. "They are psychologically strong, fit, well-coached and they are here to win."
The Cougar head coach said that he believes the key for BYU will be a good start.
"If we get going with the right energy level, good things can happen," Smyth said. "We need to get good phases, get behind their defense and create some doubt in their mind."
Linehan added that the Cougars need to avoid hurting themselves with sloppy play.
"We know if we go out and play BYU rugby that there’s not many people who can stop us," he said.
If the Cougars manage to come out on top, it would be the third straight title for BYU (who won the USA Rugby national title in 2012 and then inaugural Varsity Cup in 2013).
"Wouldn't that be great?" Smyth said. "Three in a row would be fantastic and something we've never accomplished before. It would be a great way to cap the season, and be phenomenal for the boys and our program."
The Cougars and Cal will square off in the Varsity Cup championship at Rio Tinto Stadium today at 2 p.m. in a contest that can be seen on NBC Sports Network.