Time to shine: Rugby to face Purdue in Sweet 16

After two relatively easy wins in the territorial playoffs, the Utes now handle a real challenge.

Seventh-seeded Utah Rugby travels to Santa Barbara this weekend for the Sweet 16, and will meet No. 10 seed Purdue Friday evening at 6 p.m.

Should they advance, they will face the winner of the Wyoming-UCSB match on Saturday.

Purdue comes into the match highly regarded, and the Utes are excited to get a shot at a tough opponent right away.

“We think Purdue is the strongest team on our side of the bracket,” Ute T.J. Davis said. “We like that we get to play our toughest match early on.”

The Boilermakers arrive in California on a two-game win streak, following blowout victories over Indiana and Illinois State.

They enter the tournament with something to prove, having been upset by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 last year.

Purdue features a big front line, something the quicker Utes hope to take advantage of.

“They play a smashmouth style of rugby,” Davis said. “If we can control their forward pack, we can run all over them.”

While the Utes are ranked as one of the top teams in the country, their seed is low thanks to the odd seeding system.

Seeds are based on how the previous years’ regional teams did in the Sweet 16. This year the Utes are the No. 2 team from the Pacific region (behind defending national champion California).

Last year’s No. 2 Pacific squad, UC Davis, lost in the first round, thus hurting this year’s Utes’ chances at a high seed.

While they may be a bit grouchy about their placement, the Utes can feel good about coming to the Sweet 16 on a hot streak.

In the first round of the territorial playoffs, they pulverized Stanford 70-5 behind a strong defensive effort.

The next day was more of the same. After a slow start, the Utes shut down Sacramento State, cruising to a 40-3 win at Murray Field.

If the Utes advance out of the weekend, they travel to Stanford for the Final Four, starting April 29.

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