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Cal Rugby Champs Again With 21-14 Win Over BYU

If it weren’t for senior flyhalf James Bailes’ penalty kicks, the California Golden Bears and the BYU Cougars might still be locked in combat for the College Premier Division rugby championship this evening.


Cal outlasted BYU 21-14 to win a 26th national title in an 80-minute bruiser at Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium.


Bailes booted 3-for-4 on penalties and 1-for-2 on conversions, making him the match’s top scorer with 11 points. For his efforts, Bailes was named Man of the Match.


The game’s start wasn’t particularly auspicious for the defending national champion Bears. A Cal penalty in the second minute gave BYU scrumhalf Shaun Davies a chance for a 3-pointer from 32 meters out, but his kick fell short.


The Cougars came out playing the aggressors in the game’s first quarter, keeping the Bears on the back foot and well away from their tryline. A break came Cal’s way in the 16th minute on a BYU penalty, but a 40-meter kick by Bailes went wide for no score.


Seven minutes later, Cal found its footing with try by senior flanker Derek Asbun off a 5-meter line-out. Successfully converted by Bailes, the Bears went up 7-0.


The score was a Cal tonic. The Bears’ offense sparked and drew a BYU penalty in the 34th minute, giving Bailes a chance to put one through the sticks from 35 meters out. The scoreline nudged to 10-0 in favor of the Bears.


There’s no room for slack when playing against BYU as the Cougars took just three minutes to answer with a converted try driven in by flanker Apenisa Malani. The touchdown culminated  a mauling, roiling assault on the Cal tryline.


Cal kept BYU at sixes and sevens, forcing another penalty at the breakdown in the 40th minute. Bailes set up a 3-pointer from 15 meters and wrapped up the half with a 13-7 Bear lead.


The Bears’ took offensive control in the second frame, but it was once again a penalty kick that put Cal on the board. Knock-ons beset the Cougars, with one resulting in another Bailes penalty boot through the posts from 18 meters. With that, the Bears’ edge widened to 16-7.


Ten minutes of open play ensued,  finally resulting in a Seamus Kelly try for Cal. The sophomore center’s scamper into the tryzone, however, wasn’t converted, leaving the score at 21-7.


BYU fought back with another try in the 69th minute, arousing the 11,000 partisan fans in the crowd. A conversion by flyhalf Shaun Davies made it a one-score match at 21-14.


There, however, is where the scoreline stayed as the Bears ground down the Cougar attacking game ‘til the fulltime whistle.


With the victory, the Bears wrap up the season undefeated in 27 official matches and extends the team’s win streak to 53 games. Over the 2011 season, Cal has scored 1,772 total points and given away 240. The Bears, on average, have outscored their opponents by a 7.4-to-1 margin.   


The 2011 championship is the 22nd of the Jack Clark era and brings the head coach’s overall record to 523-86-5 for a win ratio of 87.8%.