After going on Saturday to Levine-Fricke to see Cal softball lose to Arizona, I was hoping for a big victory at the rugby game on Sunday. Cal Softball and Rugby are two of the more automatic things in the Cal sports pantheon. Even though softball suffered its second loss of the season on Saturday, I felt good things about rugby on Sunday.
Oddly, this would be Cal's last rugby game of the season. I am not 100% on what the situation is, but rugby was not part of a Division 1 league this year. Some sort of transition period. You can check the schedule yourself. This was it. No playoffs. No championships. SMC on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.
SMC and Cal have a great rivalry going. It is not quite at the same level as Cal and University of British Columbia, but it is a very hard fought rivalry. I've gone to the games the last few years and it is always a great game. The Bay Area rivalry. With Witter field full of footballers practicing, the game was held in Moraga (as it was last year). It was a sunny, hot day. Apparently several thousand fans showed up to see one of the few Bay Area Cal rugby games of the year. Coach Jack Clark seemed uninterested in the crowd. His focus stayed solely on the game, even well before it started.
We got right at the sideline and were able to not only get a great shot of the game (and some decent photos), but also even eavesdrop on some conversations between coaches,staff, and players (including one incredible exchange that I'll recount in part two). This year, I did not get heckled by the SMC fans, so that is a definite step in the right direction. However, Cal lost. WHICH IS A TERRIBLE STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION! And it was the last game of the season. And it happened on a last minute kick. According to the official recap, this is the first victory by SMC over Cal since 1990:
The win by Saint Mary's was its first over California since 1990 and the first for Gaels head coach Tim O'Brien against his alma mater.
To put that into perspective, there were probably many players on the field who were not born when that last victory happened. Photos of the the first half of this intense game after the jump. GO BEARS!
Cal kicking off:
A scrum, sort of the jump ball of rugby.
I'll be the first to admit that my rugby knowledge is not top notch. It is often made even more complicated by the fact that it can be hard to see what is happening in the piles here.
Cal struck first blood when a player spied some daylight and exploded towards it past all the SMC players to score the first try (i.e. TD) of the game. However, he scored it in the corner of the end zone. In rugby, you kick the conversion (i.e. XP) from the location in the end zone (i.e. no idea?) that the try was scored. Since the Cal player touched the ball down in the corner, the kick was at a really bad angle. The Cal player missed the kick and so the score was 5-0 to start the game.
Coach Clark gives instruction to his forwards. At least, I think it is the forwards. I heard him say "FORWARDS! FORWARDS!"
Here is the kick.
A line out (i.e. throw in from soccer). When the ball goes out of bounds, a player throws the ball in to players who are thrust up in the air.
I would say in the first half that SMC spent most of the time on the offensive. Cal's two tries were explosive runs. It seemed like outside of those two drives, SMC tended to have the ball and have it on the Cal side of the field. However, Cal generally kept SMC from getting close to the end zone. On SMC's one try of the first half, it seemed similar to 3 yards and a cloud of dust offense. Even when they scored, it was like they just kept running the ball up the middle from the 1 yard line. Even though Cal kept stuffing SMC, after a while, they just finally broke through.
SMC also missed their conversion, so it was 5-5.
There was one SMC player who seemed to be significantly stronger than everybody else. He just kept barreling through people. He could push the pile.
Cal fans were acting like the reffing was really one sided in favor of SMC, but I lack the rugby knowledge to know whether that is the case. Like most fan complaints, it is probably generally correct, but not as bad as the fans make it seem.
That being said, Mike Greenstein was apparently reffing, so, yknow!
Here, the Cal player kicks the ball out of bounds for the purpose of getting a line out. It seems like sometimes if a rugby player is considering kicking the ball to the opposing team (or due to a penalty has to kick the ball to an opposing team, which may or may not be a thing that exists), they just kick it out of bounds instead. The tactic there is that you have a much better chance getting the ball back on the line out.
Kicking a penalty kick here. I believe Cal made this kick to go up 8-5. Most Cal rugby games I go are nothing like this game. NOTHING. Most games, Cal gets up quickly and stays up. I've seen Cal beat Stanford twice by identical 99-0 scores. Even last year, where the score was close at half, Cal scored like 30 points in the second half before SMC even responded. To see a close score like this (with an even amount of fans) was a great joy (even though Cal ended up on the wrong side).
As much as I love seeing a Cal blow out win, seeing well played crisp rugby that is really close is great, too. The first half was FAR better played than the second half (more on that in part 2).
I did not get any photos, because it happened very quickly and on the opposite side of the field as I, but with just a minute or so left in the first half, a Cal rugby player again exploded out of nowhere. It was a footrace to the end zone as he had a few SMC players hot on his heels. We were going crazy rooting him on and he won the race! He also made the kick, so Cal was up 15-5 going into half.
Sadly, the final score would be 20-18 SMC, so Cal would barely score in the 2nd half. Let's enjoy our delightful first half 10 point lead. I'll have more on the 2nd half (including a HUGE fight that would change the complexion of the game) tomorrow. GO BEARS!