Scrumming to the Final Four (rugby)

By and

It wasn’t easy, but the U rugby team knocked off Tennessee and Army over the weekend to advance to the 2006 Final Four.

On Saturday afternoon, the only thing that stood between the Utes and another trip to the national semifinals was a match against the host Black Knights. The Utes expected a win, but the 8-5 squeaker was not the kind of victory that was anticipated. But that doesn’t matter now, as the Utes are off to face defending national champion Cal in the semifinal game. Utah fell to the Golden Bears in last year’s title game.

The wet, muddy field on Saturday should have been an indicator as to the kind of rugby that would follow. The Utes fell behind right away after Army’s Brendan McCarthy scored on an outside run. The try gave the Knights a 5-0 lead.

The Utes struck back minutes later when Chris Giles scored to knot the game at five.

After the tying try, the game went into overload in the physicality factor. Both squads made big defensive plays, including the U defense stuffing Army on the one-meter line midway through the first half.

The second half was more of the same, as neither team would give quarter. But with fewer than 15 minutes left, the Utes finally broke through. The U was given a penalty kick from 35 meters out, with freshman Matekitonga Moekiolia charged with trying to get the Utes the lead.

While most professional football kickers would be hard-pressed to nail that length of kick in the rain, it was no problem for tight head prop Moekiolia, whose kick proved to be the game-winner.

As time ran down, Army had chances to score, but the Ute defense was too tight, eventually earning the U a trip to Palo Alto, Calif., for the Final Four in two weeks.

On Friday, the Utes dispatched the Volunteers 40-19 after holding a close 14-7 lead at halftime.