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Golden Medals: Cal Rugby opens 15s play with another dominant Storer Classic, season preview

Golden Bears show that they are again the best amongst the UC schools in the 15s season opening tournament. Bears will be playing for the D1A Championship this year.

PAC Rugby 7's Championship
Jack Clark will seek to lead the Golden Bears t
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Cal 51, UC Sana Cruz 0

Cal 54, UC Davis 0

Cal 90, UC San Diego 7 (there goes the shutout streak!)

Cal 45, UC Los Angeles 0 (so close to another #drop50)

For those counting at home, that’s Cal 240, UC other campuses 7.

The four rugby scores was how the California Golden Bears squad fared down in Westwood last weekend for the annual Dennis Storer Classic. Once again, the Bears, which easily play more matches every season than other teams, show that they are the best side out of all of the UC schools, even when they play mostly freshmen-sophomores.

Just like that, Cal Rugby kicks off their 2018 dual title defense. Bears are going for the 15s and 7s national championship double for the third straight year.

Due to some behind the scene fallen out, the Varsity Cup is no more this year. Instead, the Bears will play in the USA Rugby’s D1A championship, won by St. Mary’s College last year. While the format (number of teams), even how teams will qualify are still to be announced (which is kind of odd as the season has begun), the path to the D1A championship may pit the Bears against familiar foes such as BYU and/or SMC, as well as the Varsity Cup runner-ups from last year in Arkansas State, and Life - Cal’s CRC nemesis.

For the casual fans, it was somewhat bizarre last year to have both the Varsity Cup and D1A championship finals on the same day and both in the Bay Area. While Cal was beating Arkansas State in Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s was winning the other collegiate rugby championships in Moraga by beating Life. Looking perhaps a bit too far in advance, it may be a bit unfortunate for some Cal fan in 2018 that the D1A championship will once again be shown on CBS Sports Network rather than the more common NBC Sports Network. The possible saving grace may be that this match will be shown live, which was not true for every year of the Varsity Cup on NBC Sports Network. Anyhow, having just one unified national championship (even if it’s just in 2018) should quiet any potential critics who might have looked down on Cal’s 2017 Varsity Cup win because the Golden Bears lost the head-to-head match to SMC few weeks prior in regular season play.

Cal has actually been participating in the USA Rugby’s D1A regular season for the past few years. The PAC conference play, including UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and (sort of) sometimes Stanford, in the 15s are governed by USA Rugby. While still unclear for the moment, the qualification for the championship playoff will likely depends on these D1A regular season matches. Regardless, head coach Jack Clark has assured me that the Golden Bears will again play the best that can and try to win every match.

While run by the same folks who does the Varsity Cup, the Collegiate Rugby Championship - the annual rugby 7s championship that take places in Chester, PA just outside Philadelphia, is expected to resume (but will be on a channel other than NBC). Golden Bears should be going for a six-peat in that competition once they are done with the 15s.

Cal Rugby will continue their season by visiting Cal Poly this weekend - where they will play both the regular match and a reserved match.

Other matches of note is a visit to Stanford on February 7th, a visit from British Columbia to Witter on February 24th, the return visit (for the “World Cup” over the two legs) to Vancouver on March 4th, and that regular season ending match against SMC (in Moraga this year) on April 7th. In the more interesting non-conference home matches, East coast traditional rugby powers Army and Dartmouth will visit Berkeley on March 11th and March 24th, respectively.

2018 may be a rebuilding year for Cal Rugby as much as Cal Rugby has the need to rebuild because they consistently get some of the top talent in the world to come to Berkeley and have done a great job of training younger players who have been awaiting for that opportunity on the varsity squad. The graduation of Russell Webb means that the Golden Bears will have a new leader both on and off the field for this new campaign, as well as a new kicker for the conversions.

Thomas Robles, whose season ended early in 2017 due to an injury, may be that new senior leader for the Bears. Robles play the No.8 position which will put him right in the middle of running the Cal offense.

Both of the Man of the Match of the Varsity Cup win, Kevin Sullivan, and CRC Tournament MVP, Sam Cusano (who missed Cal’s fall 7’s schedule to nurse an injury) are back for the Golden Bears as well. Jamie Howells or the younger Webb, Elliot, appear to be the two front runners as the flyhalf who will kick the conversions for the Bears.

On paper, this year’s squad may be more vulnerable given the lack of name recognition and that surprisingly fall 7s result in the PAC Rugby tournament (host Arizona won in sudden death OT for the first Cal loss in that tournament since its inception 6 years ago). Counter to how “Cal fans” behave for other sports (mainly football and men’s basketball), Cal fans are certain that Jack Clark and his coaching staff will have the Golden Bears ready to compete comes the postseason. Cal Rugby will look to add to those 31 national titles (26 in 15s, 5 in 7s) and they remain one of the best bet amongst all of the Cal Athletics programs to win a national championship (or two, again) this spring.