Just how unlucky were twin brothers and former BYU rugby stars Josh and Jared Whippy last year?
Early in the inaugural season of professional rugby with the Utah Warriors, Josh Whippy broke his leg during a game. A couple of weeks later, Jared Whippy broke the same leg.
Even that wasn’t the end of the story, according to Warriors head coach Alf Daniels.
He said at Tuesday’s Utah Warriors media day that the team had had a preseason scrimmage and one of the players, Maika Hafoka, needed to borrow some cleats.
That player used Josh Whippy’s cleats ... and then broke his leg in the scrimmage.
Daniels said the plan is going to be to burn the unlucky footwear and hope to end the curse as well because he believes Utah needs the Whippy brothers.
“It is my personal opinion that losing those two guys cost us the championship last year,” Daniels said. “That’s how important they were, not only as players technically and physically, but with their leadership.”
Even though the two rugby players are still recovering, Daniels said he was certain about taking a chance and getting them back on the roster.
“It was knowing that they wouldn’t be ready at the start, but knowing at some stage they would be ready,” Daniels said. “More than that, they would be able to start offering their leadership and guidance to the players. Both of them have been outstanding.”
Jared Whippy said it’s an honor to be back with the Warriors, especially with coming off the injuries.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity, for the team and the coaching staff for giving me an opportunity to come back,” he said. “I’m just really excited. I’m glad the season extended another eight games, so hopefully I’ll get at least the second half of the season.”
He said it’s still surreal to think about everything that happened for his family.
“It’s been a rough time,” Jared Whippy said. “The first three months were rough because I’d never had an injury like that before. I couldn’t believe it. I trained so hard and never thought it would happen to me or to Josh, but then it did.”
Jared Whippy said that Josh’s leg has healed up pretty well while his is still recuperating and he can be back in the next month or two.
“Josh is taking it week-by-week,” Jared Whippy said. “He wants to get back to playing at a high level. He doesn’t want to rush things, but he’s pretty optimistic. He should be back good to go.”
One of the harshest lessons the Warriors learned from 2018 was that they wanted to be better prepared if someone got hurt.
“We purposefully went out and tried to improve the standard of player we have surrounding our core group of guys,” Utah Warriors CEO Kimball Kjar said. “Alf says that you can either change the man or change the man. In some cases we had to change the man and find other people. We’ve also changed the training and habits. This is pro sports and you’ve got to win.”
Daniels explained that the team has sought improvement, but also consistency.
“Every position that we’ve got, from the front row to the back, if someone goes down we’ve got someone quality to step in and take their place,” Daniels said. “Part of learning as a head coach is to make sure you don’t spend all your money on one person and not have money for other players. Some teams have bought big and may have six or seven really good players. We’re about the same level across the board.”
The benefit for the team isn’t just having more players ready to step onto the field. They are also pushing each other harder.
“I think we are two or three deep, which means the competition level has risen,” Jared Whippy said. “There are only 15 guys on the field and everyone wants a position. The intensity of training and competitiveness has increased a lot.”
Major League Rugby reached the milestone of being in its second year — something that has never happened for pro rugby in North American — and features nine teams. Matches will be shown on CBS Sports Network or streamed online, while the MLR championship will be on CBS in July.
The Warriors are determined to get the year started right and put themselves in position to go all the way.
“The key for us is to get all the details right so everyone can play with confidence,” Daniels said. “The only way they can play with confidence is if they know their roles, the calls and the structures. Training for us has been about clarity and going over and over reps so everyone knows their role and can do it with confidence. If we do that, we can have success.”
Jared Whippy said Warriors fans should be ready for an exciting brand of rugby when they come to see Utah play.
“What fans should expect is a new, different team,” Jared Whippy said. “We will be a better conditioned team. We’ve been playing a lot of expansive, running rugby. You will see a difference in the way we play. Come out and you’ll be surprised.”
The 2019 Major League Rugby regular season starts for the Warriors on the road on Feb. 1 at the Austin Elite, Utah’s home opener is on Feb. 23 against the Glendale Raptors. Season tickets are on sale by calling the Warriors ticket office at 801-935-4045 or visiting www.warriorsrugby.com.