Perennial favorites, the California Golden Bears overpowered the UCLA Bruins in the 2018 West Coast Collegiate Sevens cup final with a strong 17-5 result. While California finished the two-day tournament unbeaten, there were occasional scares along the way for Head Coach Jack Clark’s side.
After overwhelming the Utah Utes 36-0 in the cup quarterfinals, the Bears set their sights on avenging last year’s 31-26 overtime upset by the Arizona Wildcats in the PAC Sevens Championship cup final. In a back-and-forth semifinal match, the crowd at Treasure Island’s Ray Sheeran Field was on upset-watch at halftime with the score tied at 10-all.
California forwards Christian Dyer and Keanu Andrade scored tries in the second and seventh minutes, respectively, but Wildcats Matt Rogers and Kyle Fulton answered with tries of their own. Only in the second half did the Golden Bears’ defense wake up to frustrate Arizona, which allowed Dyer to clinch a 17-15 win with what would be the Bears’ go-ahead conversion and try in the twelfth minute.
With two sevens tournaments completed, California Golden Blogs breaks down four things you need to know about Cal rugby this season:
1. California is undefeated.
Beginning the 2018-19 rugby season with sevens play, California is 12-0 overall with six PAC conference wins.
Although the Bears have swept both West Coast Collegiate Sevens tournaments this month, the consensus amongst the coaching staff is that the team still has considerable room for improvement.
“You just can’t keep off the gas,” California Associate Head Coach Tom Billups said in a halftime coaches’ talk recorded by digital sports network FloSports Sunday.
2. Competition in 7s play has improved across the board.
All eyes were on the Golden Bears this weekend, and fans often cheered loudest when California’s underdog opponents managed to score a try or tie the match. Little known Central Coast Athletic Club, who scored a cheeky try against the Bears in their first match of Pool A play Saturday, won the tournament shield with a 13th place finish in a field of 16—not bad for a squad’s tournament debut.
Many sides, including members of the PAC conference, likely returned home from Treasure Island thinking they could have a shot at an upset in the future.
3. Coach Clark fielded a young team in the two-day tournament.
Expected to field a squad full of upperclassmen, many freshman and sophomore players contributed significant minutes and added dutifully to the score lines.
“Everyone contributed, including the underclassmen with big minutes,” California back Elliot Webb, a senior, said in a prepared statement.
California fielded a squad entirely of underclassmen in the quarterfinal match against Utah, and freshman Jason Severance and sophomore Kevin Saunders saw time as replacements in the semifinal and final games.
Opponents in November’s upcoming PAC Sevens Championships may need to be mindful that Coach Clark has a balanced approach.
4. Chemistry has yet to develop, especially amongst the underclassmen.
Defensive play, winning restarts and counter-rucks are an issue for the Golden Bears, and team chemistry may be the culprit.
“I know a lot of us haven’t played together between the juniors and the new freshmen coming in. When it comes to cohesion and learning what one player’s good at or what one player’s bad at is a weakness for us,” California forward Christian Dyer, a junior, said in a post-match interview Sunday.
California will host the 2018 PAC Rugby Sevens Championship at Witter Rugby Field Nov. 3 – 4. Do you think the Bears will claim the PAC conference championship? Will you make it out to Strawberry Canyon to cheer on your Bears?