Varsity Cup Final: California Golden Bears (17-1) vs. Brigham Young Cougars (13-0)
Date: May 2nd, 2015
When: 1 PM PT
TV: NBC Sports Network (the one that you may have tuned in for the Olympics or Tour de France)
Since its inception three years ago, the Varsity Cup's main boast as the Collegiate Rugby Championship (yeah, there is another one by the name of USA Rugby Division 1-A Championship...which is broadcasted on an ESPN network and plays in two weeks) is based upon the inclusion of both Cal and BYU, two programs that have pretty much won every single Collegiate Rugby Titles in the last 20-30 years. For the third straight year in a row, the Golden Bears and the Cougars will meet in the final.
Two seasons ago in a thrilling fashion, BYU converted a drop kick in the dying seconds to claim a 27-24 victory. Last year, BYU won by a 43-33 score. Is this the year when our sturdy Golden Bears will bring back the Varsity Cup title for the first time? Coincidentally, before this BYU repeat, the Bears have won 5 of the 6 championship titles in the previous 7 years (and the non-participation of both Cal and BYU on a College Rugby championship 4 years ago led to the formation of the Varsity Cup).
Bears will look to hand BYU their first loss on the year this afternoon in Rio Tinto Stadium just outside Salt Lake City (yes, it's effectively a home match for the Cougars) and improve on that 10-3 all time record against the traditionally physically stronger, something about having players that are more mature thanks to their age, side.
Cal head coach Jack Clark has this to say about BYU, "They're the defending national champions and they're undefeated. Say no more." (He did say more.) "As daunting a task as it is, we love playing BYU. They bring out the best in us, I assume because anything other than our best would result in a hiding."
Bears are playing some of their best rugby on the season after a somewhat sluggish start on the year (referring mainly to the UCLA match that was relatively close) adjusting to life without long time captain Seamus Kelly. Closing out the regular season, the Bears earned a tough 23-21 win at University of British Columbia (who handed the Bears their lone lost earlier on the year) and defeated St. Mary's College (who may be playing in that other USA Rugby championship final) 27-20. Bears then dropped 100 on Texas (100-7 win) and 50+ on Navy (57-15) to secure their spot in this final.
BYU took out UCLA (45-16) and Central Washington (35-8) to get to this final.
The Golden Bears are going for their 27th National Title in Rugby 15's (in addition to 2 Rugby 7's titles). Unlike Joe Girardi for the New York Yankees, Coach Jack Clark does not wear a number on his back to indicate the number of the next national title.
More about the Bears, from CalBears.com:
The front row will be bookended by props Scott Walsh and George Vrame, both of whom played the full 80 minutes in the 2014 final, a contest in which the Cal forwards showed great mettle. At hooker between them will be Michael Bush, who missed the 2014 postseason with injury and will make his championship debut in the No. 2 jersey, having played several minutes as a replacement at No. 8 in the 2013 final before switching to hooker last year.
The second row will see James Kondrat at No. 4 in his second straight Varsity Cup final, joined at No. 5 by newcomerSione Sina, who has made a great impact in his final year at Cal following the close of his Golden Bear football career.
Co-captain and three-time All-American Alec Gletzer is back to start his third straight Varsity Cup final at open-side flanker. Likely to join him in the back row are blind-side flanker Carl Hendrickson, who saw championship playing time as a reserve in 2013 and ’14, and Connor Sweet, a replacement player in 2014 who would be making his first start in a final wearing the No. 8 jersey this Saturday.
Scrumhalf Paul Bosco and flyhalf Russell Webb form the halfback combination, with both having previously started last year’s final and Webb also playing all 80 minutes as a freshman in the 2013 championship. Nicklas Boyer will also look to get into the action at some point, having started a few big matches this season and as well as having played all 80 minutes of the 2013 championship match.
In the midfield, inside center Anthony Salaber will make his first championship start having solidified that positon withHarry Adolphus outside him at No. 13. Adolphus started as a wing in the 2014 final and came on as a reserve the year before against BYU.
Miles Honens scored a try as a replacement winger in the 2014 final and looks to be the starting choice at No. 11 for this championship. With him in the deep three are fellow winger Andrew Battaglia, a two-try scorer in the 2014 championship final, and co-captain Jake Anderson at fullback, both with the past two Varsity Cup finals on their resumes.
In all, 13 of the Starting XV for Cal have previous experience in the Varsity Cup final, nine as starters. They will be joined by a talented selection of ready reserves as Clark and coaches Tom Billups and Mike MacDonald seek to orchestrate a winning result for what would be the 27th all-time national collegiate title for the Blue and Gold in 15-a-side competition coupled with their consecutive national 7s titles in 2013 and ’14.
Learn more about the Cal front row, Scott Walsh, Michael Bush and George Vrame, from this article from the Daily Cal:
Sione Sina, who is coming off his senior season with Cal Football, was featured on "Inside the Lair":
CalBears.com: Does the championship you're chasing right now compare to anything else you've been through as an athlete?
Sione Sina: This is different, but all athletics demand everything you can give. I've tried to give what I can to the team. Rugby has demanded even more, in the conditioning aspect for sure, but in all athletics you have to give your utmost if you want to be successful. In high school, my football team went to the Sacramento-Joaquin Division I Sectional championship game and we lost. That game never leaves my mind, that championship game. Every time I go home to Sacramento, those are my guys. They were my teammates the last time I competed for a championship. Now we've got another one coming up. Hopefully we can seal the deal.
CB: How do you approach a championship as opposed to any other game?
Sina: You try to keep the same standards for every game. You try to treat the week like it's the same week, but you can't. There's going to be a championship game. You're going to have come at it with somewhat of a different mindset. Especially with it being my last game at Cal, you've got to approach it different emotionally and mentally. The physical aspect, that can't change; just keep to it. I don't take any of these moments for granted. One more week left, I don't take any of this for granted, especially with these guys. I cherish every moment with these guys out there enjoying it. That's the only difference. A championship game, the level of intensity is going to be higher. The mentality is going to be different no matter how much you try to downplay it.
CB: So regardless of the outcome, you know you're going to play your best and hardest on May 2. After that you are going to receive a degree in Sociology from the University of California. What does that mean to you?
Sina: Being the first boy in my family to graduate -- I have three older brothers, a family of 13 and only one of my sisters has graduated from college -- I'll be the first boy among my grandparents' grandchildren, and there are a lot. The first boy to graduate, and coming out of UC Berkeley too, I don't want to downplay it. I think it's a major accomplishment, graduating from Cal and playing two sports my final year. You've got to fulfill all your academic demands in the fall, you get half a break in the winter and then you come back for spring camp for rugby. But I'm really proud of graduating and doing two sports my final year, two of the most demanding sports, I believe. No offense to the other sports, but rugby and football correlate a lot. And walking away with a degree, I'm just proud.
BYU are equally experienced given a lineup that returns all but 2 starters from last year's squad.
BYU’s Alex Vorster, a 6-0, 225-pound hooker from South Africa, is likely to bookended by two experienced props in 2014 Varsity Cup final starter Zane Mendenhall, a junior whose uncle, Bronco, is the head football coach at BYU; and senior Kody Thompson, who started in the 2013 final at flanker before moving to prop, where he started in the 2014 final.
Kyle Lontine could make his second straight national championship start at lock, as could Dan Hubert, a 6-2, 215-pound senior; or Nic Purcell, a junior from New Zealand who started against Central Washington and checks in at 6-7 and 295 pounds.
U.S. international, four-time All-American and captain Kyle Sumsion will be set to lead the Cougars at one flanker position, and he could be joined by Ara Elkington, a Kiwi who would be making his second straight start in the Varsity Cup final. The physical Joe Pikula, also a football player for BYU who played most of the 2014 final, is the likely choice for BYU at No. 8.
Luke Mocke, a 6-1, 195-pound scrumhalf from South Africa, will be making his third straight start against Cal in the 2015 Varsity Cup Final. Outside him at No. 10 is Jonny Linehan, a New Zealander who also started in the 2013 and 14 championships, and the Fijian brothers Jared and Josh Whippy in the centers, where senior Seki Kofe could also feature. The wings could consist of the speedy Jordan Lowry at No. 11 with the 6-4, 205-pound transfer Joshua Anderson, also a converted football player, on the opposite wing. The deep three could be completed by junior Ryan Blaser making his first national championship start at fullback.
Bears had some issue stopping Kyle Sumsion last year and the rest of the Cougars squad sound quite physically intimidating as well.
It should be another great match and a great battle between the two programs.
After this bout to end the XV's season, the Bears will make a quick transition to prepare for the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7's which will again be played at PPL Park just outside Philadelphia, PA on May 30-31st where the Golden Bears are two time defending champions (and the finals of those matches will be broadcasted live on the main NBC channel).