Provo, Utah - Following BYU's 91-3 home-opening victory against Utah State last Saturday, the BYU Cougars are readying for this weekend's Champions Challenge tilt against the 2012 Super League Champions New York Athletic Club (NYAC).
Saturday's meeting between the 2012 men's division champion and the 2012 collegiate champion is the first between the two clubs, but will likely prove to be one of the 2013 season highlights in American rugby.
BYU has won two of the last four collegiate championships (2009, '12), while NYAC are no slouches by winning four of the last eight Super League championships (2005, '08, '10, '12).
NYAC comes to Provo with just one game under their belt in 2013 against fellow men's division foe Life Men's Club where NYAC won 12-5 in a wet, but physical affair.
NYAC finished the 2012 season beating Old Puget Sound Beach in the Super League final by the score of 32-29 and is looking to make a charge at the newly-founded Elite Cup which pits America's top men's teams against each other.
Leading the way for NYAC is former Penn State All American and current USA National scrumhalf Mike Petri. Pairing with Petri in the NYAC backfield will be fellow USA National Team member and flyhalf Toby L'Estrange.
Other notable NYAC players are USA National Team member Brian Doyle, forwards James Denise and Neil McMillan, and No. 8 Al McFarland.
NYAC head coach Bruce McClane waxed gracious when asked about the opportunity for his team to come to Provo's scenic South Field and to play what McClane calls one of the "premier university programs."
"We are very excited for the opportunity to play BYU. We don't often get the chance to play at such a beautiful venue with so many enthusiastic fans," McClane said, "Our players are excited for the opportunity to play against such quality opposition with the likes of Ryan Roundy and Paul Lasike. These are two of the premier programs in the country and the fans should be in for a treat. We feel that this match will allow us to test our ability against some of the best players in America who come from some of the finest high school programs and graduated into one of if not the premier university programs in the country."
The Cougars have some national team history of their own. Recent grad Shaun Davies is capped and Jeff Hullinger, Salesi Sika, Pate Tuilevuka, and current assistant coach Kimball Kjar were all Cougars capped as Eagles. At the midway point of their season, BYU is looking to use the NYAC match as a stepping stone for the rest of the season.
"We're very excited for this match," said BYU captain Ryan Roundy, "NYAC is sort of the benchmark for top level rugby here in the states and to have them on South Field will be a great opportunity for us as a team."
For their part, the Cougars won't be returning a group of notable players from last year's 2012 championship team but the team comes into Saturday's Champions Challenge looking forward to the opportunity to play one of the country's top teams."Obviously this will be a very difficult but exciting challenge for us." said BYU head coach David Smyth, "We are honored to have the NYAC team come to Provo. Playing against a team of their ability and with their [USA National Team] Eagles and the other high caliber players they have will be an experience our boys won’t soon forget. I hope that our team gets the rewards that their work and efforts deserve. But just the opportunity to learn form this game's experience will serve our boys well in their rugby development."
BYU and NYAC kick-off at 1pm on Saturday, March 9th. Gates open at 12pm and tickets can be bought at the gate for $8 for adults, $5 for students. Early admission is $3 for all who come before 12.30pm.
BYU will be unveiling their 2012 championship banner before kick-off so fans are advised to come early to participate in the celebration.
The game will be webcast. Check back with RUGBYMag.com for details.