For the second consecutive year, I have been able to check out the still growing rugby festivities that is the Collegiate Rugby Championships in Chester, PA (just a few miles south of Philadelphia). Since I have moved to the city of Philadelphia in the last year, I was able to attend both the Saturday pool play as well as the championship knock-out round on Sunday this year.
On Friday night, the Bears started out their title defense with a convincing 36-14 win over Temple. Okay, a couple of late scores allowed to the Temple Owls was a bit concerning, but the Bears are in a good shape for not just a spot in the championship round (for the top 8 teams in a field of 20) and the top overall seed (likely to be determined by the second tiebreaker which is the point differential).
After entering into the stadium from the special gate for team personnel and media, I was immediately struck by the sight of the imposing Coach Jack Clark and the Cal Rugby team warming up for their first game of the day.
Pool Play: Cal 36, Drexel Dragons 0
First up for the Golden Bears on Saturday is the Drexel Dragons. This is the first year of participation in the CRC by Drexel. In case you didn't know, Drexel is a private university located in Philadelphia just next to University of Pennsylvania. It is also my current employer, but as a post-doc, I'm more or less an academic merc for the moment. The schools color are blue and gold (that feels familiar even if it may be some very slight difference in shades).
In turns of athletics, the most interesting thing about Drexel is that the mascot is a freaking dragon (close second may be how the school is trying to be a squash powerhouse). The relatively newly redesigned dragon logo has the look below.
Like I said, Drexel are also blue and gold although the shade of blue that they use in athletics is a lot darker (and appears differently from the one in the school logos).
Here is a game action shot with Cal's Jake Anderson making a move.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Bears received yellow cards (which forces the team to be one man down for 2-3 minutes) in both games on Saturday. Against Drexel, Seamus Kelly was called for an unsportsman-like penalty for spiking the ball (which I didn't see). He was forced to seat in this penalty chair for a couple of minutes. Both in this game and the Maryland game later, the Golden Bears were able to get a short handed try despite being a man down (6 vs. 7).
While it may have appeared that the Bears were going to again concede points late in the match, the Bears held that off for a 36-0 victory.
Drexel was held scoreless by both Maryland and Cal, but they will eventually beat Temple 12-7 to make the Bowl (for 13th place) semifinal. Drexel lost to St. Joe 17-5 to finish in the 15th/16th place of the 20 team tournament.
Pool Play: Cal 40, Maryland Terrapins 5
Also in the same pool as the Bears are the Temple Owls and Maryland Terrapins. They first had to play each other early in the day.
You can see the Terps' gold uniform in their match against Temple. With Maryland now being Oregon East, thanks to its tie with Under Armour, not to mention 4 colors that are official schools colors (red and white, gold and black), there are no shortage of uniform looks in any sports.
Against the Golden Bears, the Terps wear a more black kit.
Here are the two teams ready for their very first meet on the rugby field. Since I have watched plenty of Cal-Maryland matchups (spending the previous 6 years as a grad student at Maryland may have something to do with that), I kind of see this game as the reverse of the Cal-Maryland field hockey match that I went to several years back with one best in the country vs. another one that is not quite in the same class (with the roles reversed, of course). The key difference here is that Maryland rugby is just a club sport.
I actually didn't notice this ref until friends pointed it out watching the TV coverage, but this ref is wearing Google Glass. I'm not sure if he is recording his own unofficial replay of the actions or what. Maybe he is watching a movie or something [Insert joke about him looking up rugby rules on the fly] while being a ref. Partly related to the two yellow cards received by the Bears on Saturday (and seating near Cal parents who are obviously biased), I got the sense that the refs are not really the Bears' friends in this tournament.
Maryland rugby is also in their very first year at the CRC. Several fans made the 2+ hour track to support their team.
Action shot of Cal vs. Maryland.
Bears making a tackle here.
Russel Webb is kicking off here following yet another Golden Bears score.
Final score for Cal vs. Maryland is 40-5. With the win, the Golden Bears are 3-0 in pool play to clinch a spot in the top 8 championship knock out round for Sunday. With a point differential of 93 (112 points scored vs. 19 conceded), the Bears end up getting the top overall seed for the knockout stage (allowing them to be on the opposite side of the bracket than the 2013 runner up in Life).
Two squads exchanging pleasantry post match.
I had previously thought that the Terps would be in the final 8 thanks to their 2 previous wins (even tweeted about that on the CGB twitter...oops; CGB has no editorial integrity). Unfortunately for them, the large margin of defeat to the Bears (Bears are trying hard to get that top seed rather than just running up the score, in case you're wondering) dropped their point differential to 5, meaning that they only got the 10th seed to play for the CRC plate (teams 9-12). Maryland actually went on to beat Ohio State 22-5 and then Northeastern 24-0 to win the Plate in their first appearance. Not a bad outing by the Terps.
This is their team huddle after winning the Plate on Sunday (this match was right before the championship game).
Non-game actions from the CRC 7s
Let's take a break from the rugby (and there were quite a bit of rugby on the weekend, with game after game with virtually no breaks) for some other sights around the tournament.
There is a new mascot for the USA 7s and his name is Rug Bee. Here is him hanging out with his buddy, a fellow mascot that is in part due to Rhino Rugby being a major sponsor of the tournament.
I don't know about you, but I feel a strong urge to run up to Rug Bee and kick him when I see him on the field (that smirk on his face certainly doesn't help). Sadly, I never got the opportunity to take a picture with Rug Bee, maybe that's for the best for me not getting figuratively kicked out of the tournament myself. Also pictured below, is the "Golden Bear" Avalanche from Kutztown.
The CRC also employees a dance team that they dubbed the "Sweethearts". These girls are apparently members of the dance team for the Philadelphia Wings of the Major League Lacrosse. That's a behind-the-scene investigative reporting tidbit that you don't get from the TV coverage. They go by the names of "Angels" for their lacrosse job.
In order to circumvent the first and only rule of journalism that "there is no cheering in the press box", I again ran back and forth between the press box and the stands. Here is a view from the press box.
One key difference between 2013 and 2014 at the CRC is that they allowed the fans to seat on both sides of the stadium this year, rather than all on the opposite side to make it look more full for TV. Since the stands still look fairly full, I've got to think that the total attendance for this tournament is still growing.
Top 8 teams heading into the Championship Round on Sunday are
1. Cal (3-0), Point Differential (PD) of 93
2. Life (3-0), PD of 85
Life University, a small school in Marietta, Georgia, has been a rugby powerhouse for awhile. One of the other program that offer rugby as a varsity sports, Life was a major presence in this tournament for the second straight year with plenty of ads at the events to educate the fans about Life.
Life had their own section (see sign) below which also showcases the Philadelphia skyline in the background.
3. UCLA (3-0), PD of 61
4. Michigan (3-0), PD of 33
5. Kutztown (2-0-1), PD of 56
6. Dartmouth (2-0-1), PD of 18
7. Navy (2-1), PD of 38
8. Penn State (2-1), PD of 37
Bears drew Penn State in the quarterfinals round and were told that they would play the winner of UCLA-Dartmouth in the semifinals on Saturday night.
Quarterfinal: (1) Cal 33, (8) Penn State Nittany Lions 5
The Bears took on Penn State, who may be the "local team of Philly" despite the distance of the campus from Philadelphia and the presence of numerous colleges and universities actually within Philly. This was basically no contest like the previous 3 games played by the Bears thus far, despite Penn State taking the very early lead by scoring the first try of the match.
In other news, the Penn State women defeated James Madison Dukes for the women's CRC title. For those wondering, there is a separate Rugby 7s championships in the fall that the Cal Women's rugby (a club team) compete in.
With the game well in hand, Coach Clark took out Jake Anderson and gave him a well deserved pat.
Here is Andrew Battaglia scoring the last try of the match.
Here is a different angle of the same score by Battaglia.
Your final score and a look at the press box.
There is no truth to the rumor that LB Khairi Fortt (now New Orleans Saint) transferred to Cal because of the much stronger rugby program.
Aside - Michigan vs. Kutztown
Nope, those are NOT the Golden Bears of California - neither the squad in gold and blue rugby stripes (Michigan) nor the other team that are actually also named the Golden Bears (Kutztown). I was curious whether the teams have distinct enough uniforms if Cal were to play Michigan but that matchup never occurred as Kutztown took out Michigan in the quarters.
Semifinal: (1) Cal vs. (3) UCLA
Prematch practice by the Bears.
Team huddle just before the start of the match.
The Team vs. UCLA
1. Kelly, 2. Harrington, 3. Gletzer, 4. Webb, 5. Bosco, 6. Anderson, 7. Battaglia
Here is the opening kickoff!
Here is a shot of some UCLA fans in the stand. Interesting fact, there is actually no official UCLA club of Philadelphia, despite the presence of prominent alum in the city like the Phillies' Chase Utley and likely large counts of alum in the area. There have been efforts to make that happen, by the way.
Also on the sideline for this match, New Zealand All Back legend Tana Umaga. He is apparently now a player coach and is just here to check out some CRC action. Not pictured here but was standing next to him is former Cal Football star and current Philadelphia Eagles in LB Mychal Kendricks, who is back for the 2nd straight day of rugby action.
Back to the game action.
Rugby is a physical game.
The poster image for the 2013 CRC was Cal's Jake Anderson hurdling over UCLA's Grant Penney. Penney, who was bald in 2013, is now sporting a head full of hair and a mustache (see below). Maybe he doesn't want to be identified as the same guy who was posterized last year...
Credit to UCLA for very solid tackling in this match, however. Cal's Gletzer had twice tried to hurdle over a UCLA defender (last man back) on different occasions but the Bruins were able to make a solid try saving tackle both times.
Here is a lineout. Given the sun, most fans this year is sitting on the shady side of the stadium.
Bears can also make solid tackles.
Bears and Bruins in a scrum.
The scoring timeline in the first half
04:00 Jake Anderson 5
07:00 UCLA (Seb Sharpe) 5
The match is tied at 5 during the 3 minute halftime.
Since the half is so short, the team just huddle on the field/sideline while the dance squad do their thing.
Here is Cal captain Seamus Kelly in action. This tournament represents that last time for Seamus Kelly in a Cal Rugby uniform. The unprecedented 3-time captain of the squad may be a more suited for Rugby 15s than 7s, but he is still a force to be reckoned with in the 7s. Kelly is already on the US Squad for the 15s, his absence due to the national team obligation was part of the reason why the Bears lost to World Cup to UBC this year.
By the way, there is still a day or so left in the voting for Seamus Kelly's first round CGB HoF matchup. You can find that here.
09:00 Seamus Kelly 5
Bears tag on another try (but it's again at the corner) when Jake Anderson gives the Bears a 15-5 lead.
11:00 Jake Anderson 5
UCLA won't go down easy, however. They answered with two tries of their own, including the second one right down the middle.
12:00 UCLA (Seb Sharpe) 5
13:00 UCLA (Niall Barry) 5, 2
With a game tying try right down the middle, UCLA was able to make the easy conversion to go up 17-15 on our sturdy Golden Bears with just under 90 seconds left in the game.
Is this the end of the Golden Bears in the 2014 CRC? Is this how Seamus Kelly will close his illustrious Cal rugby career? How will the Bears respond to the pressure of falling behind late in the match?
TO BE CONTINUED!!!
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK (BUT ON MONDAY). SAME BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL. FOR THE EXCITING CONCLUSION OF CAL RUGBY IN THE 2014 CRC.
This is more of the old school "to be continue" in TV shows, etc. going to a commercial break where you know that the good guys will triumph but the suspense is more on the how.
Now that you have gone through some of my pictures, here is a video recap of the actions [Spoiler Alert! It does show you who wins this tournament, in case you are waiting for part 2 of this photo-essay]: