In rugby 7, with just 7 players per side but the same amount of field as rugby 15s, a small mistake can quickly turn into points by the opposing team. With one of the more inexperienced squad in recent history, the always dominant California Golden Bears rugby teams suffered a rare loss to Pac-12 foes on the rugby pitch on Sunday.
In the first semifinal match of the day, Cal Bears overcame a first half deficit to beat UCLA 14-7.
Christian Dyer scored the equalizer.
Dyer than pitched the ball to Shankland for the go ahead try with about a minute or so left for the final margin.
After the host Arizona Wildcats took care of in-state rival ASU 26-19 in the other semifinal, it sets up a final between the perennial leader of the PAC, Cal and the host Arizona.
Bears jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead in the first half, but a brief moments of lack of concentration (one was caused by a Wildcat player seemingly injured) allowed Arizona to tie the match up at the half.
Arizona actually went ahead in the 2nd half.
But with stoppage time and one last chance to tie, Elliot Webb - the younger brother of Russell Webb, would send this match to a sudden death OT.
Kicking off in the sudden death OT, the Bears chose to challenge for the ball and not have a guy back to defend. This decision unfortunately set up Arizona’s Dante Weeks to be the hero.
Just like that, Cal’s firm grip on the PAC Rugby 7s championship is over. After 5 years of dominating this competition, the Golden Bears will not be taking this title back to Berkeley. While this is a shocking results for the more casual Cal fans, this also show the growth of the game of rugby in other Pac-12 schools.
Golden Bears will now switch format to rugby union with official competitions starting early next year. It is in the spring that the Bears will defend their two consecutive double titles of both the Varsity Cup (Rugby 15s) and the CRC (Rugby 7s) national championships.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
Despite coming off 5 straight PAC Rugby 7s championships in the fall and 5 Collegiate Rugby Championships National Rugby 7s championships in the spring, Cal Rugby is facing some new challenges this year with the graduation of Russell Webb, Anthony Salaber, and Patrick Barrientes - all three are big contributors on nearly all 10 of those rugby 7s championships mentioned.
Of course, plenty of the current Bears were also there for many of these championships, not to mention all the rugby talent that matriculate at Cal every year. Cal fans will get a chance to see how the not-as-familiar-squad do on the Pac-12 Networks today with the semifinal and final of the 2017 PAC Rugby 7s championships being broadcasted live. Bears will take on UCLA in the semifinal and (hopefully) Arizona/ASU in the final.
Golden Bears had an easy time on Saturday to book their spot in the semifinal. Bears defeated Arizona State 26-10 and Utah 24-17 in two somewhat closer than comfort matches.
The Scoring Timeline vs. Arizona State
Halftime Score: California 14, Arizona State 0
08:00 Thomas Robles 5
12:00 ASU (Alex Walsh) 5
13:00 ASU (Ray Velasquez) 5
Final Score: California 26, Arizona State 10
The Team vs. Arizona State 1. Dyer, 2. Goena, 3. Robles, 4. Andrade, 5. Flynn, 6. Coyle, 7. Tavenner
Replacements: Purdey, Mirhashem, Spradling, E. Webb, Casey
The Scoring Timeline vs. Utah
04:00 Utah 5, 2
05:00 Thomas Robles 5
Halftime Score: California 12, Utah 7
08:00 Christian Dyer 5
10:00 Utah (Gabe Ruffin) 5
14:00 Utah (Gabe Ruffin) 5
Final Score: California 24, Utah 17
The Team vs. Utah 1. Dyer, 2. Spradling, 3. Robles, 4. Tavenner, 5. Coyle, 6. Fuller, 7. E. Webb
Replacements: Goena, Andrade, Kurihara
5th year senior Thomas Robles is back after missing the majority of last year to an early season ending injury. Zachary Tavenner, Aidan Flynn, William Fuller, and Jake Goena (first action this fall) are the rest of the veteran Bears, while Keanu Andrade and Christian Dyer have more limited action in past tournaments.
Sam Cusano, the quick Cal wing that played a big part in the CRC this past spring is out this fall with an injury but expected to be back next year. Also out is Troy Lockyear, who is still recovering from a season ending injury from last school year.
Matthew Coyle has taken over the kicking duty this year from Russell Webb. This is his first PAC 7s, despite being a senior.
Given the reliance by the Bears on more youth than usual, perhaps they are more vulnerable this year. Nonetheless, it would be unwise to bet against the Golden Bears on winning their 6th consecutive PAC Rugby 7s championship this weekend from Tucson, Arizona.
Cal vs. UCLA: Semifinal 1
When: 10 AM PT
Arizona vs. Arizona State: Semfinal 2
Cal/UCLA winner vs. Arizona/ASU winner
When: 11:45 AM PT
The 7 matches go by fairly quickly as each half is merely 7 minutes with an 1 minute halftime.