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D1A Rugby National Championship Final: Cal 5, Life 60

The 29th national championship in Rugby 15s will have to wait for the California Golden Bears.

Golden Bears have one tough obstacle (in Life) between them and a 29th National Championships.
Cal Athletics Twitter

Sometimes, Life comes at you fast. That was what happened on this afternoon from Santa Clara. The more seasoned Life squad used their superior age and strength to dominate this match. Golden Bears tried to sell out a bit on offense to get back in this one only for Life to capitalize and run up the score. The lone Cal try came early to cut the Life lead to 7-5 but that was as close as the Bears would get.

Life wins their 3rd D1A Rugby 15s national championships in their program history. Congratulations to the Running Eagles.

Cal will quickly change focus to the rugby 7s season. Bears will play, for the first time in program history, in the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship from Glendale, Colorado on May 18-20. Kutztown, Lindenwood, Arizona, and Utah will be a part of that field, but not Life (who the Bears have beaten twice in the CRC national championship finals in their 5 straight year of dominance in that competition). Bears will be looking to win their 6th overall (and straight) rugby 7s collegiate national championships.


First of all, apologies for getting a couple of things wrong in my posts in the past few weeks concerning the D1A Rugby championships. First of all, the championship on Saturday will be on the CBS Sports Network (the same as the semifinal, and the same for 2019). The ESPN network coverage will be for the 2018 CRC which Cal has just decided to not defend, after winning the past 5 years and participated in all 8 years of the competitions up to now. With the CRC losing the national TV sponsor of NBC, Cal Rugby has chosen (at the last minute) to participate (and save some travel cost) in the USA Rugby National 7s on May 18-19 in Glendale, Colorado instead. So after winning both the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup (Rugby 15s) national championship (the competition folded this year after losing sponsorship) and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (Rugby 7s) national championship for the past two years, the Cal Bears are going for two different national championships in 2018.

Second of all, Cal Rugby has 33 national titles currently (the Cal Bears dot com website has the wrong total of 31 despite listing all 33 national championships) - that is 28 rugby 15s and 5 rugby 7s. Golden Bears will be looking to add national championships No. 29 for Rugby Unions today. This could be the 98th team national championships in Cal Athletics history.

However, this potential next national championship will NOT be easy, even if the Cal Bears have de facto home field advantage since this match will take place in the South Bay (from the campus of Santa Clara).

Last year’s Varsity Cup national championship took place at the same venue against Arkansas State, but it was not packed. Judging from how many Life fans (it’s a small school so I’m not sure where these fans come from exactly) that are at the CRC annually, they may have a fairly big supporter section for this match.

While Cal (22-2) has a perfect record vs. Life thus far (2-0 in 15s, 4-0 in 7s including twice in the CRC championship finals), this Life (16-0) squad may be considered by many to be the favorite in this match. They have certainly looked very impressive on the year and in this postseason tournament. Life routed Central Washington 87-7, took down Army 44-10, and routed Penn State 69-14 in the semifinal.

Bears made it to the championship final via a 85-14 route over Grand Canyon University, a 33-27 2nd half comeback vs. Navy, and a 43-22 win over Lindenwood in the semifinal. Life has beat Lindenwood twice this year, 22-18 and 31-12.

Like many other US collegiate ruby program that is not Cal, Life has a lot of international players that are drawn to the US thanks to the rugby scholarship. From the preview:

The front row for the Running Eagles features 6-0, 220-pound Matt Harmon, a 22-year-old junior, at loosehead binding on to the 5-8, 220-pound Zimbabwean hooker Brian Muntanga, who scored four tries in the semifinals against Penn State. Alongside them is Alex Maughan, a 23-year-old junior, who weighs in at 5-10, 235 pounds at tighthead prop. Life also used 23-year-old freshman (per Life website) Julian Montes off the bench against Central Washington and Army. Montes began at Rogers State University before enrolling at Tulsa Community College, both prior to attending Life. At lock, Life relies on lineout ball winner Jamie Berrisford, a 21-year-old sophomore from Stonehaven, Scotland, who checks in at 6-4 and 215 pounds, and junior Mike Islava, a 6-2, 205-pounder.

In the back row, Mike Johnson stands at 6-2 and 210 pounds at one flanker, while at other flank is Sebastien Banos, a 6-0, 210-pound junior who lists the Canadian province of Quebec as his hometown and has represented Life since 2014. Life has also relied upon 21-year-old freshman Keagan Sparks in the No. 6 jersey. Sparks is from the Durban Sharks Academy in South Africa. At No. 8 is junior Maciu Koroi, a 6-2, 240-pound, 23-year-old Fijian by way of Sacramento who featured in high school for the Islanders Rugby Club.

Among the backs, scrumhalf Ryan Rees delivers the ball to a midfield staffed by flyhalf Duncan Van Schalkwyk from South Africa, inside center Mitchell Wilson, age 22, from Australia and 23-year old-freshman (per Life website) Sean Coughlan, who reports to already have a Bachelor’s degree from the Institute of Technology in Carlow, Ireland. In the deep three, senior winger Harley Wheeler is joined at the other wing by 25-year-old Austin White, who began at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma in the fall of 2011 as a football player and has also had stays at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and New England College prior to his current stint at Life. With them is George Phelan, who hails from the United Kingdom, at fullback.

It’s an experienced group of guys, but I am not sure that they are any better than the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds that the Cal Bears did beat at Witter earlier this year (the away leg of that match was played by the Cal reserved - and is one of two losses on the year).

For the Golden Bears, they got back closer to full strength for the semifinal match. Damon Wiley and Sam Cusano are amongst the players that missed the Navy quarterfinal (if not more before) but got back for the Lindenwood semifinal.

I expect the same lineup for the championship final as for the semifinal.

Let’s hope that this championship will be a hard fought but clean contest, and all the participants will not have to go through what Robert Paylor has to go through after the national championship on May 7th, 2017.

More Robert Paylor update:

Now that Robert Paylor is out of the hospital (reposting that video below), he is going to take an invited spiritual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France where many injured and wounded people go. Then for the summer, Paylor will be interning at Intel. By the fall, he will be back in Berkeley to start in the Haas School of Business.

For the most part, the Our Stories feature on Paylor was the same feature from before. A 9 minute version of that is on YouTube but the full 22 minute feature may finally be available to all viewers (including non-subcribers) now.

Nonetheless, even with rugby no longer a part of his life, Robert Paylor still living quite a full life should be an inspiration for us all.

D1A Rugby National Final: California Golden Bears vs. Life Running Eagles

When: Saturday, May 5th, 2018 at 2pm PT

Where: Stevens Stadium (Santa Clara, CA)

TV: CBS Sports Network