Cal Rugby returned to postseason play this past weekend with the brand new collegiate rugby national championship, the Varsity Cup. In a political move, the Bears refused to participate in the USA Rugby collegiate championship last year (won by BYU, number one seed of this year's Varsity Cup). This year, the Varsity Cup, has become the collegiate rugby national championship.
Cal started their bid for national championship number 27 by playing in the "East Super Regional Semifinal" (or rather the quarterfinal round of the entire tournament) against the 7th seeded Notre Dame. I rounded up a few people from the DC-Cal alumni club to make the short trip over to the Navy Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, MD to see the fabled Cal Rugby program in action.
Despite some serious rain the day before, the was was perfect on this Saturday afternoon.
Here are the Bears warming up right before the match.
And here is your startling XV for the Bears. Given some injuries concerned from the tough match against St. Mary the week before, the Bears actually fielded a relatively young squad with a lineup featuring six underclassmen starters and three more frosh-sophs as replacements.
Somehow, I convinced the power in charge that CGB (or rather myself) is a legit media outlet and they gave me this Media Pass to be closer to the action. This is totally my chance to become the East Coast version of Lindsay Brauner! Alas, I had a far lower expectation of myself, to just match the rugby Photo Essays of Twist NHook.
Pretty much right away, before I had a chance to realize what is going on, the Bears scored their first try.
04:00 Brendan Daly 5
Bears missed the conversion so it is just 5-0. The Bear offense then stalled for a few minutes as Notre Dame actually managed to move down Bear territory, culminating in a missed field goal attempt from 30 meter out at the 11 minute mark.
A classic rugby scrum.
And a lineout, which is fascinating to see in person.
The captain for this game, No. 8 Danny Barrett, filling in for the injured Seamus Kelly (who was a reserve for the match, in case of emergency) saw an opening.
And moved the Bears down the field to setup another try.
16:00 Grant Hyjer 5
This gentleman to my left, as well as the couple in front of him, were kind enough to explain some rugby to me and my group (we have also got another rugby expert within the group). He told us that our favorite player would be sophomore Jesse Milne at the Left-Wing position. He may be slightly biased being that is his son, although Milne did have a great game and really stood out in that position.
Here is Jesse Milne in action.
Between all the DC-Cal club people (thanks for showing up, by the way) and the rugby parents, there was actually a pretty good group of Cal fan present for a match that takes place across the country.
At this point, I finally decided to use my media pass and moved down to the field.
A disclaimer, despite being the de facto person to put up rugby posts this past season, I do not really understand the game of rugby. Immediately, I chatted up the fellow media pass holders: a couple of Dartmouth photographers whose equipment puts my point-and-shoot camera to shame, and a legit rugby writer who immediate stumped me with a benign question since I don't know my Loosehead Prop from Openside-flanker without consulting Wikipedia. Almost as importantly, I realized how little out of bound space there are on the field. Am I going to embarrass/hurt myself by accidentally stepping on the field and not getting out of the way fast enough?
I got down in time to catch the conversion attempt after another Cal try.
And the kick is good! See it split the upright.
21:00 Nicklas Boyer 5
24:00 Eakalfi Okusi 5, Jake Anderson 2
Here is a shot of the legendary coach (and CGB Hall of Famer) Jack Clark as he watches a Bear making a tackle.
As I was playing with my camera looking at the opposite side of the field, these three massive and fast athlete ran right past me, much to my surprise.
With the chance to center the ball for a better conversion kicking spot for himself, the fullback got the following conversion attempt.
27:00 Jake Anderson 5, 2
And that was all the scoring in the first half. Though there was another 10+ minutes of Rugby action.
And a lineout that took place right in front of me. Did I mention how impressive lineouts are in person? That's the level of rugby commentary that I am providing with my media pass. Yeah, I know. I probably shouldn't quit my day job.
There was also this sequence:
And then it was half time. The score was Cal 29, Notre Dame 0. Will the Irish make a 2nd half comeback? Will I have any misadventures on the sideline in the second half? Find out in the exciting conclusion of this photo essay next time.