On Saturday I took advantage of a fine afternoon by heading to Westwood to see the Bears take on UCLA's rugby club. I managed to bribe Mrs. Bk97 into attending with the promise of a trip to Diddy Riese while we were in the area. UCLA has put together one of the better teams in the PAC rugby conference. They're not on the level of Cal and Utah, but the Bruins are not pushovers. In fact, Cal only beat them 29-7 at the All-Cal tournament last month. So I was looking forward to a somewhat competitive match (as competitive as you can expect from a non UBC/Utah match).
When I arrived De La Salle and Cathedral Catholic high schools were finishing up their match. It's quite the contrast to see the build of the high school players and the Cal players. Most Cal players are in the 180-220lb range. These high schoolers looked to be 140-160. I caught the tail end of the match, so I'm not sure who won. CC did manage to score two tries while I was there. There was a good turnout from the parents and families of the players. It had me wishing my high school district had rugby when I was growing up.
Soon enough we made our way up into the stands and got situated. Cal's reserves were on the field sizing up the Bruins. (Click each photo to view an embiggened version)
There was a fantastic turnout by Cal supporters. Several former players were in attendance along with many, many Cal fans. We seemed to outnumber the UCLA fans 3:1 (and that's being generous to the UCLA fans).
Mrs. Bk97 took several pregame pictures and was delighted when the varsity players removed their practice shirts and put on their jerseys. She took several pictures of the spectacle, which I'll include for the benefit of the ladies who read CGB (and some of the men too).
And finally, the pinnacle of masculinity, head coach Jack Clark.
The Bears huddle up prior to kickoff.
Here are the match's officials. The official in the pink shirt photobombed about 90% of my pictures.
The Bears line up for the opening kickoff.
And we're underway!
The Bears battle UCLA in an early scrum.
Unfortunately, an errant pass from Andre Coquillard was intercepted by UCLA's Race Noeldner who ran it in 55 meters for a try (the rugby equivalent of a touchdown, worth 5 points). Because Coquillard ran the ball in near the center of the field, UCLA's conversion attempt (basically a PAT, but worth 2 points) was at a manageable angle. As a result, UCLA took a surprising 7-0 early lead.
Cal scored minutes later. Unfortunately, this try was near the sideline, so the conversion was at a tough angle. Cal didn't convert and trailed 5-7.
I was impressed with UCLA's ability to maintain possession. They did not turn the ball over very often. Here the Bruins recover the ball following after it was dislodged when a UCLA player went down.
Cal breaks free for a long run.
#5 of UCLA managed to catch up...
..and made a spectacular play to jar the ball loose before the try. Unlike football, in rugby one scores a try by grounding the ball in the endzone. Although the Cal player reached the end zone, he did not ground the ball and Cal was not awarded any points.
Cal maintained possession, however, and battled for a couple minutes before successfully scoring the try.
The try was scored towards the middle of the field, so the conversion attempt was at a much friendlier angle. Jake Anderson splits the uprights (the ball is just below the light in the picture).
Whenever the ball goes out of bounds on the sideline, the last team that touched the ball is penalized with a line-out. Cal last touched the ball, so UCLA has been given possession and will attempt to throw the ball to one of the UCLA forwards. The Bruins must throw the ball down the middle between the two teams, however.
Teams usually lift a player to try to get him into contention for the ball. UCLA recovers the ball on this particular line-out.
Jack O'Beirne is off to the races as Coach Clark watches.
A scrum takes place directly in front of Coach Clark.
Eakalafi Okusi looks for a running lane.
If not for the photobombing pink-shirted official, you'd be able to appreciate fully that this Cal player is carrying three UCLA backs. What's most impressive about the Bears is that they have a fantastic combination of strength and speed. As we'll see in the second half during part two of this post, Cal's strength and conditioning gave the Bears a huge advantage.
Grant Penney (9) of UCLA is only 5'4" but he played a big role on the Bruins' team.
After a scrum Penney makes a long pass to teammate Sebastian Sharpe...
...who takes it in for a try. During the first half UCLA had success in spreading out the Cal backs and using their speed around the edge to sneak in for a try.
The player closest to my sideline (#1) is Cal football linebacker J.P. Hurrell. You can tell he's a football player because he can really deliver a hit.
UCLA will recover after this scrum...
and once again bounce outside for another try. Fortunately UCLA scored the try near the sideline, which set up another tough conversion.
The tough conversion was way off the mark.
Nicklas Boyer looks to make a pass.
I'm not sure where this guys legs are. From the look on his face, I'm not sure he knows where they are either.
This UCLA player has nowhere to go.
A scrum late in the first half took its toll on the Bears.
Tanner Mohr went down during the scrum. He joined the football team as a fullback during spring practice in 2012.
Trainers tended to him for a while as the action on the field took a break. He was moving his arms and legs, so it didn't appear to be a limb injury.
They had to move him onto a table to bring him over to the Cal tent.
An ambulance and some EMTs had to be called to take care of him. After several minutes he left in an ambulance. Hopefully his injury isn't too serious.
Eventually the match resumed.
And the Bears got back to scoring tries. Check out Pierre Courpon (UCLA #5) who had to hurdle the Cal player after he scored the try.
A couple minutes later the half came to an end. It was a tough but exciting half. Although the Bears looked sloppy early in the half, they were dominating field position and time of possession. Cal led 33-17 at halftime. Would the Bruins continue to pose a stiff challenge in the second half? Find out when we post part two!