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Cal Rugby Drops Sixth-Straight World Cup to British Columbia

California Golden Bears bested by the British Columbia Thunderbirds 28-24 Sunday

California defeated British Columbia 24-22 in the first leg of the annual World Cup series in 2019.
California sophomore Adam Roeske scored two tries in the first leg of the World Cup series.
Alex Ho for Cal Athletics

In a clash of the titans, one of the mighty must inevitably fall.

The California Golden Bears (9-1, 1-0 PAC) were dealt their first setback this season Sunday, after the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (15-4, 10-3 British Columbia Premier League) defeated the American side 24-28 in the second leg of the World Cup in Vancouver, Canada.

The Thunderbirds came out ahead with an aggregate score of 50-48 to claim their sixth-straight World Cup title.

“The goal coming into this match was the consistent application of pressure,” British Columbia Head Coach Curry Hitchborn said in a prepared statement issued after the series. “We did an okay job at adapting at times, and we showed great resiliency in gutting out a win.”

As in previous away legs, California Head Coach Jack Clark opted for a roster heavy on first-years and sophomores. First-years played a majority of the minutes for California well into the second half. The California Starting XV also differed from the side which bested British Columbia 24-22 in their first meeting on Feb. 23. Despite the youth, California remained competitive in the second match-up, as both sides switched off scoring for a total of four tries each.

A late penalty converted in the 75th minute by British Columbia flyhalf Adam McQueen — who also completed a hat trick on the day — clinched the victory for the Thunderbirds. Two minutes prior, California junior scrumhalf Ken Kurihara scored a dramatic try, which was capped off by a successful conversion kick by freshman flyhalf Sam Walsh to bring the Golden Bears within one point.

But at the end of the day, the Golden Bears’ last-minute efforts could not be sustained. “We wanted to prove our worth and played well, but we also made too many mistakes,” California freshman flanker Jason Severance, who scored a try in the 43rd minute Sunday, said once the series concluded.

A storied tradition

The University of California and the University of British Columbia together are some of the most storied collegiate rugby programs in North America, and since 1921, the Golden Bears and the Thunderbirds have faced off in annual home-and-away contests, now known as the World Cup series.

The play-styles of the two sides have evolved in modern times. Recent British Columbia rosters are now older and more professional than their California counterparts. “The longstanding traditions between Cal and UBC have given way to the realities of the T-Birds crafting a roster to meet the maturity levels of the B.C. senior competitions in which they compete,” the California varsity rugby team said in a prepared statement.

The University of British Columbia competes in the top flight of competitive club rugby in the Canadian province of British Columbia. “The match provides us an opportunity to play against the top team in Canada,” California Coach Clark said in a prepared statement. The Thunderbirds are the reigning champion of the British Columbia Premier League.

California, unlike British Columbia, is limited by U.S. collegiate athletics eligibility standards. Most notably, the Golden Bears’ roster is a “non-scholarship” team, meaning all of its student-athletes are required to meet the admission requirements for the University of California system and the rigorous academic standards of California’s flagship university once enrolled.