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Cal Rugby drops home leg of “World Cup” to UBC 28-17

UBC remains the only 15s side to beat the Golden Bears in the past two years.

Golden Bears face their main rival on this fine Saturday afternoon from Witter Rugby Field
Cal Varsity Rugby Facebook

Despite lacking both the size and experience, California Golden Bears battled hard on Saturday against the daunting University of British Columbia Thunderbirds from Witter field. Shutting the TBirds down in the 2nd half plus a couple of late tries (and conversions) made the final score a lot more palatable. It also gives the Golden Bears a sliver of hope going to the Vancouver leg of this rivalry. The “World Cup” trophy will go to the side with the higher aggregate points.

From the official Cal Bears recap:

The Bears (11-1, 3-0 PAC) shut out the Thunderbirds in the final 40 minutes and got tries from Drew Gaffney and Fawzi Kawash following a first-half penalty kick from flyhalf Russell Webb (1-1, 2-of-2 conversions).

"I've seldom been prouder of our team," head coach Jack Clark said. "I thought we played beyond our ability. So many young boys in particular were brave in their performance, against an obviously superior and vastly more experienced opponent." "There are a lot of positives we can take from this," added Webb. "The underclassmen were immense. Every single one of us is ready to go into that training room tomorrow and start getting ready for the next job."


California Golden Bears vs. University of British Columbia Thunderbirds

Where: Witter Rugby Field (Berkeley, CA)

When: February 18th, 2 PM PT

TV: Pac-12 Bay Area

Coming off a season when they won both the 15s and 7s national titles for the first time in program history, the California Golden Bears (11-0, 3-0 in PAC) will face the rare feeling of being the underdogs this Saturday when they encounter the last team to beat them in rugby 15s - The University of British Columbia Thunerbirds (8-2, 2-0 in Premier), who won both legs of the “Wold Cup” battle in 2016.

The Golden Bears, lead by the trio of 5th year seniors in Russell Webb, Andrew Salaber, and Patrick Barrientes, with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores have not been tested at all in 2017. They certainly will be challenged against a UBC team that have dominated against men’s senior teams in Canada. This is the top college rugby rivalry in North America. With no apology to Stanfurd, UBC is clearly the main rival for the California Golden Bears on the rugby pitch.

Since the collegiate eligibility rules are a little bit different in Canada, a lot of the Thunderbirds are apparently former pros (who are getting a nice degree from UBC while living in Vancouver).

From the preview:

UBC, which enters the weekend with extra rest following the cancellation of its February 4 league match against Capilano due to weather, "features the most generous scholarship offerings in Canada," according to its website, adding, "Players from overseas are also eligible for additional scholarship funding." Veteran names with an array of accolades are apparent throughout the 'Birds lineup.

Starting in the No. 1 jersey for the Thunderbirds is likely to be Clint Lemkus from Capetown, South Africa, where he played for nearby University of Stellenbosch after previously playing as a professional for Crociati (Crusaders) RFC in Parma, Italy. Last spring he completed his final season at Central Washington University, where he exhausted his U.S. collegiate eligibility before looking north of the border to play for UBC.

Next to Lemkus at hooker has been Chris Taylor, a former Ireland U-20 international, followed by tighthead prop Neil Courtney, a former U-20 international for Canada. "It's nearly 800 pounds of front row," coach Clark said, "and they're every bit that strong."

The international experience continues through the forwards, including lock Thomas Roche, a former Canada U-20 international; flankers Jake Ikeda, who played for British Columbia's U-20 representative side, and Nakai Penny, a former U-20 international for Canada; and No. 8 Connor Hamilton, who formerly captained Canada's U-20 team.

The backline for UBC is likewise brimming with international experience, starting with the mercurial scrumhalf Jorden Sandover-Best, a former U-20 international for Canada. It continues with flyhalf Theo Sauder, a former Canada U-20 international; center Adam McQueen, a former Canada U-20 international; Nate Rees, a 28-year-old former Wales U-20 international and former player with Cardiff RFC; Manar Kulkhan, a dangerous 25-year-old on the left wing; Cole Keffer, a former Canada U-20 international on the other wing; and Andrew Coe, the former Canada U-20 international who scored two of his three tries in the 2016 "World Cup" series on his last visit to Witter Rugby Field.

So if you think BYU has an unfair advantage against the Bears due to their age and experience, UBC is like that times another factor of 10. Bears will also be missing senior No.8 Thomas Robles for this match. Nonetheless, Cal fans know that Bears will be up for the challenge.

The return leg of the battle for the “World Cup” - named after the World Newspaper in Vancouver, will be on Sunday, March 5th. The better aggregate annual score will wins this trophy, established in 1921.

It should be interesting to see what the Bears are made off from this significant “midterm” of the season.