Utah will try to move to 2-0 in PAC play Saturday as the Utes host Oregon State in the Beavers’ first conference match. The weather could impact the game, as temperatures around freezing and snowfall are expected.
Both Utah and Oregon State come into the game battle tested, though. The Utes have lost to Life and Glendale this spring and beaten Arizona. Those are three pretty good opponents. Oregon State's schedule hasn’t been easy either, as the Beavers ran up against Central Washington and the University of British Columbia.
“Segments of those matches came together well and we’re trending nicely,” said Oregon State coach Anthony Lally of his team’s two toughest preseason tests, both losses.
“We definitely got the tempo [against Central Washington]. Obviously, the breakdown pace and efficiency was solid by Central, carrying over their 7s competencies like speed and ball distribution, and they were things we needed because we have, from the Northwest perspective, had a lumbering forward type play.
“We tried to bring a few more layers to that last year, but this year we really want to be a team that moves the ball when it’s called for and keeps the ball tight when it’s called for.”
One guy who will look to benefit from Oregon State’s newly found style of play, should those inside of him be able to get the ball through the snow and past Utah’s defense, is wing Pono Haitsuka.
“He’s been very, very good on the wing, and we look for him to be creative when the game opens up,” Lally said of Haitsuka.
If the ball doesn’t get past the midfield, it could be because it got trapped in the hands of OSU captain Robert Kennedy. He missed the 38-0 win over Oregon due to a concussion suffered against UBC and is set to make his return Saturday.
“I always expect Robert to play well,” said Lally. “He’s very athletic, he’s a hard-hitting tackler and strong ball runner, so we’re looking forward to Robert leading the guys out there.”
Utah’s playmakers are the same as they have been the last couple of years, sans All American Don Pati, who broke his arm against Life last month. Captain Danny Christensen leads the attack from No. 10, Tonata Lauti will be a dangerous ball carrier from whichever position he’s playing on the day, and forwards Mike Juszczak, Mike Shepherd and Nick Mostyn are forces to be reckoned with.
But the biggest force to be reckoned with, literally, is No. 8 John Cullen. He is the former starting left tackle for the Utes football team and a tough load to bring down. (You can read more about Cullen’s story in the most recent issue of RUGBY Magazine digital).
If the weather dictates a forward-laden, tight attack from both teams Saturday, the sheer size of Utah could break down Oregon State’s defense. If not, the Beavers might be able to escape Salt Lake City with a 1-0 record in PAC play.