clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cal Rugby hosts Saint Mary’s ahead of national title run in Varsity Cup

The Saint Mary match might not be for a national title, but just for all of the bragging rights that comes with a national title (since both teams may have one at the end of the year).

Cal Rugby Cal Rugby Twitter

Yikes! That’s no good. California Golden Bears suffered a narrow home loss to Saint Mary’s College on Saturday night 27-24. Maybe it’s good that the path to another 15s national championship will not put Saint Mary’s in the Golden Bears’ path.

Bears actually had a 19-10 lead at the half, which turns into a 24-13 lead in the 64th minute, only to give up two tries and two conversions. One last attack in the last two minutes and stoppage time was not enough.

Bears may face Saint Mary’s next in Rugby 7s at the CRC this year.

Otherwise, the Bears will just have to rest and regroup while awaiting the result of the Clemson/Dartmouth Varsity Cup opening round match.


California Golden Bears (14-2, 5-0 PAC) vs. Saint Mary’s Gaels (8-1, 3-0 California)

Where: Witter Rugby Field

When: 5 PM PT

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Casual Cal fans may or may not know this, but since the inception of the Varsity Cup 5 years ago (there was a gap year when the Golden Bears did not compete in a national championship of any sort), allegedly stemming from some disagreements between rugby powerhouses Cal and BYU and USA Rugby, there have been two 15s national championships. One is the higher profiled Varsity Cup which will once again be broadcasted by NBC (or NBCSN), the other one is D1A Rugby National Championships (which can be found on a random Sunday afternoon on ESPNU) - the main competition set up by USA Rugby. Technically, Cal Rugby is competing in the PAC Conference play which is governed by USA Rugby; it is not entirely clear if there are any eligibility difference or anything between USA Rugby conference play and the Varsity Cup (I personally don’t think there is).

BYU Cougars decided to leave the Varsity Cup this past winter, soon after they were stripped of the 2015 Varsity Cup title (the title will be vacated since Cal Rugby declined to claim the title by default) for using ineligible player(s). BYU is choosing to join the D1A national championship this year (some early report of them being sanctioned for an year turned out to be untrue), giving that competition a boost in prestige.

What it all means (and not much more for this year) is that posterity may look upon the result of tonight’s regular season match between Cal and Saint Mary’s to decide upon “the true national champion” of the 2017 college rugby season. Saint Mary’s was the top ranked squad in the country for most of the season according to USA Rugby (Cal is now 4th due to having those losses to UBC). They are the favorite to win the D1A national title and will host that championship in May. The lone loss by Saint Mary’s was a 35-26 setback at Provo to BYU; this loss came after the Gaels won the previous matchup from Moraga, CA. By the way, Life is now the top ranked team by USA Rugby. Cal has only played Life in the Collegiate Rugby Championships - the Rugby 7s national championship tournament in June.

So plenty of bragging rights will be at stake at the battle of two top United State college rugby program today from Berkeley. Golden Bears is in the midst of a weird “rebuilding” year in that the majority of the players are new (particularly after season ending injury to senior Thomas Robles), but the Bears also brought back 3 Fifth Year Seniors in Russell Webb, Patrick Barrientes, and Anthony Salaber (all three guys have been very active for the Golden Bears for all 5 years of college).

Then again, Saint Mary’s is led by their own 5th year senior in Holden Yungert.

The path to (a seemingly easier but it probably won’t be) Varsity Cup start on April 15 for the Golden Bears. The new 14 team format (after losing BYU and Texas, who are tired of being beaten so badly and declared that they will need some time to retool) gave the top two seed, Cal and Central Washington (one of the few schools where Rugby is an official varsity sport) a bye in the first round. Apparently, the 14 teams (which still include UCLA) had to replace Utah and Arizona State with Boston College and Utah Valley (Varsity Cup has got some work to stop the exodus of teams). Cal will open Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship play on the road at the winner of Clemson/Dartmouth. Should the Bears advance to the semifinal, they will host a game at Witter on April 22nd. The championship is set for May 6th and the latest news is that it will be hosted at Stevens Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University at noon PT and on NBC Sports Network. Getting way ahead of ourselves, Cal fans who say that they have never seen Cal win a national title in person (where were you this past December for Men’s Water Polo?) will get the chance to do so.

After the end of Varsity Cup play, Cal will again participate in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s from Chester, PA on June 3-4. Interestingly, Saint Mary will join the CRC field for the first time this year.

It would certainly be interesting to see if the development of the parallel Varsity Cup and D1A national championships in the coming years may cause the two to merge again. Before we get to that point (and way before “scholars” years from now will retroactively award national titles - like all those football national titles “won” by the Ivy League and Notre Dame in the 1800’s), we get to see an exciting college rugby match between two East Bay rival and national college rugby powerhouse.