Before we begin, here is again a quick recap on what Rugby 7s is about and why it is gaining importance.
Rugby 7s is the format of rugby that will be played at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) is an annual competition to determine a collegiate national champions. 2013 marks the 4th year of its existence. The Bears, while perfect in CRC pool play in their history, have never won the CRC. In the single elimination championship round, the Bears have been edged and knocked out in all three rounds (final in 2010, quarterfinal in 2011, semifinal in 2012) of Sunday's Championship Round play.
Bears, for the first time, finally have a year round preparation for Rugby 7s this year after years of dominating the scene in the standard Rugby 15 (or Rugby Union).
Here is a more detailed primer about Rugby Sevens, ignore the information about "tournament" at the end since this is clearly from a different thing (as much as we, particularly me, here at CGB has done the Cal as a nation comparison for Olympics Medal count sake, colleges are not considered nations).
Rugby sevens is clearly a faster and shorter game than the traditional Rugby 15 where Cal has dominated. By National Championships counts, Bears have 26 for Rugby 15 and Sunday marks the very first one CRC one in Rugby 7s (in obviously less opportunities). Technically, the Bears have also won a "National Championship" at 24-team USAR-7s last december but the CRC has a bit more history on its side.
Although both are "rugby", they are different games with different strategies akin to the difference between soccer and indoor soccer, 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 basketball, and (a sore subject to some) stroke and match-play in golf. With the significantly shorter time and plenty of more open spaces, any single mistake is greatly magnified in 7s to add to the chaos and the number of upsets.
Prior to Sunday, the Golden Bears qualified as the No. 1 seed for Sunday's championship round by taking the top spot in Pool C and earning the top seed with the largest points total in the 20-team field with a very impressive 110-12 scoring margin in 3 games.Prior to Sunday, the Golden Bears qualified as the No. 1 seed for Sunday's championship round by taking the top spot in Pool C and earning the top seed with the largest points total in the 20-team field with a very impressive 110-12 scoring margin in 3 games.
On Sunday, the Bears get to open their Championship Round quarterfinal with a familiar opponent in Arizona, even though I don't believe Cal faced Arizona in the inaugural PAC Sevens tournament last fall.
For the third straight year, the CRC is being held in Chester, PA (just south of Philadelphia, PA). I have never been to PPL Park before and its setup reminds me a little bit of AT&T Park with the Bay Bridge nearby (possibly it is just me missing the Bay Area).
The weather overall was pretty nice, temperature-wise. Although the wind at times does play some tricks on the conversion kicks. A brief and extremely light rain did not really dampen the mood.
Getting to the stadium just in time for the kickoff of the Cal-Arizona game, the scorings came fast and furious before I can find a seat. Bears jumped out with a quick try, but Zona quickly responded.
Here, Cal's captain Seamus Kelly made a move on a bunch of Zona players.
The ball just went back and forth across the large field while the crowd and the CRC announcer ooh and aah on the various big hits. I think it is apt to say it is like football except there is no time or stoppage of play for the most part for the fans to catch their breath between hits between plays at times.
The Quarterfinal Scoring Timeline vs. Arizona:
04:00 Arizona (Ryan Matyas) 5, (Jack Arnold) 2
06:00 Arizona (Shane Carter) 5
Halftime Score: California 14, Arizona 12
I thought I can relax and orient myself a bit at the half, but Rugby 7s' half time is merely 2 minute long (more like a timeout).
This Jake Anderson try sealed the contest.
12:00 Jake Anderson 5
Final Score: California 26, Arizona 12
The Team vs. Arizona:
1. Chehade, 2. Harrington, 3. Barrett, 4. Webb, 5. Anderson, 6. Kelly (c), 7. Battaglia
Replacements: Barrientes, Coquillard, Boyer
A somewhat surprisingly large Arizona group was present at the CRC this year, due to the organization of their local alumni clubs. Apparently, they got former Wildcat and current Eagles QB Nick Foles to show up on Saturday.
The Semifinal Scoring Timeline vs. UCLA:
Just a reminder how Rugby is a pretty physical game. Two players fighting for the kickoff kick.
03:00 UCLA (Race Noeldner) 5, (Ben Francis) 2
Bears actually fell behind early in this one to give the Baby Bears some hope. UCLA's got a great bounce of a kick to score the first try of the match.
06:00 Danny Barrett 5
Methodically, the Bears fought back to tie and then take the lead before half time.
Halftime Score: California 12, UCLA 7
11:00 UCLA (Seb Sharpe) 5, (Ben Francis) 2
Freshman from Hong Kong Russell Webb made a nice play kicking the ball to himself and outrunning the defender to allow the Bears to go up by two scores.
13:00 Jake Anderson 5, 2
Jake Anderson with a Jeremy Ross like move to leap over a UCLA player on his way to a long try run.
UCLA got a final, meaningless try to end the game.
Final Score: California 33, UCLA 21
The Team vs. UCLA:
1. Coquillard, 2. Harrington, 3. Barrett, 4. Webb, 5. Anderson, 6. Kelly (c), 7. Battaglia
Replacements: Boyer, Chehade, Barrientes
Here are your main scorers for the semifinal match. Junior Jake Anderson (left) with the try that sealed the win and senior Danny Barrett (right) with 3 tries (from close range kind of in a football goalline back role).
Here is look at the Cal and UCLA supporters with the Bears with the game in hand. With a 33-21 final score, the Bears advanced to the final. The semifinal game was aired live on NBC Sports Net and replayed on NBC to broadcast Cal's dominance over UCLA to the whole country.
BETWEEN GAME DIVERSIONS:
Bears have actually played Life in sevens just last year in the bronze medal game at the 2012 CRC. Bears won that one 26-7.
The Championship Scoring Timeline vs. Life:
Once again Danny Barrett (middle) was the scoring machine for the Bears. The Bears marched down the field, showing willingness to go to both sides. Then use Barrett for the short gains for the tries.
Halftime: California 14, Life 0
09:00 Seamus Kelly 5
Bears are up rather comfortably with just under 5 minutes left in the game.
Of course, Life would not give up without a fight.
Here is a Bear "hanging on for dear life" on a Running Eagles player trying to score.
11:00 Life (Colton Cariaga) 5, (Joe Cowley) 2
13:00 Life (Joe Cowley) 5, 2
Life made it a one scoring game (with the possibly of a score and a try to give them a come from behind win). Cal Rugby fans probably can't help but to think back to the last second heartbreaker in the Varsity Cup Championship game earlier this season.
But the Bears got the ball back with the clock winding down. A kick of the ball out of bound by Webb and the Bears are celebrating their very first CRC Sevens Championship!
And it is time to celebrate! It is the Bears' first major National Championship claim since the 15s won the National Championship in 2011.
Final Score: California 19, Life 14
The Team vs. Life:
1. Chehade, 2. Harrington, 3. Barrett, 4. Webb, 5. Anderson, 6. Kelly ©, 7. Battaglia