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Undefeated Cal Rugby prepares for rivalry match vs. St. Mary's this Saturday
Two of the best rugby teams in the country will face off on Witter Rugby Field on Saturday at noon (Pac-12 Bay Area)
After a perfect 13-0 season in Rugby 7s this past fall, Cal Rugby (11-0) has stayed perfect in 15s thus far. Only one regular season match remains in this 140th season for the storied Cal Rugby program.
The Golden Bears will seek vengeance for their 14-32 loss at SMC last year in an abbreviated season where Cal only played three matches and did not compete for any national championships. Both Cal and St. Mary’s (9-0) may be the best two teams in the country this year. Saturday should be a preview of the Western Conference Final in the upcoming D1A Rugby playoffs in April. D1A Rugby has decided to separate the bracket into the top 6 teams in the East vs. the top 6 teams in the West.
When I was writing about the various Cal teams that could win team national championships a couple of months ago (part 1, part 2), I somehow never completed my series with the planned part 3 about Cal Rugby (and Cal Women’s Gymnastics as the darkhorse national championship contenders).
Here is a quick rundown of how Cal Bears achieved their 14-0 record.
The 15s season started with the annual trip down to Los Angeles for the Dennis Storer Classic. The teams opted to play shorter matches of about 40 minutes long (a regular rugby 15s match is 80 minutes long).
Cal 29, UC Santa Cruz 0
Cal 33, Cal Poly 3
Cal 38, UCLA 8
13 Bears combined for 16 tries as Cal distributed the limited playtime to give players chances to earn roles on the varsity team.
Due to the difficulty to cross the border, University of British Columbia pulled out of the annual home-and-home with Cal this year. Cal also lost a match with California Maritime because they refused to pay USA Rugby for the membership fee to compete.
Cal 66, UC Santa Barbara 5
Cal 120, San Diego Legion Academy 0
While Cal head coach Jack Clark had some concerns that his team will not be tested enough, the Bears have got the results, even if they are seldomly satisfied.
Cal 94, Arizona 10
Cal 84, Grand Canyon 0
Cal 24, BYU 21
This was the only Cal Rugby match that I have watched this season through the online stream. The Golden Bears dominated possession early but BYU was able to keep the Bears out of the try zone. Right after Cal finally got a try in the 20th minute, BYU took only three minutes to answer with a try and a tough conversion to go up 7-5. The Bears got two tries, including one on a counter, before the half to take a 17-7 lead.
BYU would strike first in the second half. The Cougars got a try and then a try with conversion to take a 21-17 lead in the 64th minute. The Bears obviously would not quit. Although they had a couple of possessions stopped by turnovers, Nick Bloom was able to score a try in the 80th minute. The conversion was good for the final 24-21 margin.
"The match was aggressive today," senior captain Sam Golla said. "BYU was class. They were low and they made their tackles. We knew we had to double down on our focus, stay calm, stay collected and continue to make our tackles. That was our plan from the get-go. We knew we had to make a change after we were down: grind, continue to work them down with our pace and hold onto the ball. We fell off a couple of times, but we stuck with it which allowed us to score in the final minute."
Cal 52, UCLA 21
Cal scored 8 tries, including a hat trick by Nick Bloom. UCLA apparently exposed some of Cal’s inexperience in defending lineouts.
Cal 48, Central Washington 19
In a physical match, Cal scored 27 unanswered to start the game. Nonetheless, the post-match quotes were about how the team needs to cut down on picking up penalties.
Cal 68, Utah 0
Although Cal traveled and played the match on the same day, the Bears were sharp against a Utah side that apparently fought all match long (Cal players and coaches are always appreciative when their opponents fight for the full 80 minutes). Compared to the lineups used in the last two matches, it would appear that the Bears started 2/3 reserves in this one.
In addition to senior Nick Bloom, junior Max Schumacher is another frequent visitor to the try zone. Sophomore Will Shankland has 6 tries on the season (somehow the rugby stats are not readily available like for other sports). Nate Salter has been the primary conversion kicker for the Bears.
Goff Rugby Report speculates that both Cal and SMC will be the top seeds out West with a bye to start the playoffs. BYU and Central Washington will likely host teams out of Arizona, UCLA, Grand Canyon, and Cal Poly.
SMC’s website lists the following dates for the postseason:
9-Apr-2022 - TBD - Playoffs
16-Apr-2022 - TBD - Quarter-Finals
23-Apr-2022 - TBD - Semi-Finals
30-Apr-2022 - TBD - National Championship
We shall find out more about Cal Rugby’s postseason path and possibly their Rugby 7s plan in the coming weeks.