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Cal Rugby advances to D1A Rugby 15s championship Final Four

Golden Bears will play at the St. Mary’s Gaels in the Western Division Final on Saturday.

Cal Varsity Rugby Facebook Page (Photo by Zach Franzen)

There have been little surprises in the first two rounds of the 2019 D1A Rugby 15s College Championship. California Golden Bears and St. Mary’s College Gaels in the West and Life Running Eagles and Lindenwood Lions in the East are the last four teams standings.

Let’s start with the Cal Bears and their quest to make it back to the championship final and redeem for last year’s blowout loss to Life. Cal Rugby is seeking the program’s 29th rugby 15 championship (to go with 5 rugby 7s titles) - a May 4th victory will also be the 100th team national championship claimed by Cal in its long athletics history.

Some interesting insights from Head Coach Jack Clark before the tournament. Despite losing the experienced Zachary Tavenner, arguably the best player on the team, Coach Clark likes his team:

There is a strong work ethic on this team. They are close and pulling for each other. As a team we are evolving to the next level. I think we could play our best rugby going forward.

Interestingly, the Q&A claims that the Cal Bears are not playing in the CRC for the Rugby 7s championship because they are not invited this year (being the most prominent college rugby program in the world has put Cal Rugby in some weird political situations). SMC will be playing in the CRC for the first time this year, coincidentally. Bears will play in the D1A Rugby 7s championship in Tucson, Arizona at the end of May instead.

Round of 16: Cal 141, UC Davis 3

Bears defeated the UC Davis Aggies 136-0 in the late January match. The postseason rematch was no different. Cal’s Christian Dyers scored a hat trick in the first 10 minutes and the Golden Bears never looked back. Bears scored a total of 20 tries in this one.

The Scoring Timeline vs. UC Davis

02:00 Christian Dyer 5, Sam Walsh 2

06:00 Christian Dyer 5, Sam Walsh 2

10:00 Christian Dyer 5, Sam Walsh 2

11:00 Marcus Shankland 5, Sam Walsh 2

13:00 Jack Iscaro 5, Sam Walsh 2

14:00 Sam Walsh 5, 2

19:00 Sam Walsh 5, 2

22:00 Marcus Shankland 5, Sam Walsh 2

28:00 Sam Golla 5

31:00 Marcus Shankland 5

34:00 San Golla 5, Sam Walsh 2

35:00 Sam Golla 5, Sam Walsh 2

38:00 Sam Golla 5, Sam Walsh 2

Halftime Score: California 87, UC Davis 0

41:00 Nick Bloom 5, Sam Walsh 2

43:00 Sid Holland 5, Sam Walsh 2

48:00 Seth Purdey 5, Sam Walsh 2

56:00 Nick Bloom 5 63:00 Tyler Douglas 5, Sam Walsh 2

66:00 UC Davis (Tarik Siniora) 3

69:00 Brian Joyce 5, Sam Walsh 2

77:00 Luke Freeman 5, Sam Walsh 2

80:00 Seth Purdey 5, Sam Walsh 2

Final Score: California 141, UC Davis 3

The Team vs. UC Davis 15.Damron, 14. Bloom, 13. Purdey, 12. Dyer (A. Roeske @ 56:00), 11. Shankland (E. Webb @ 56:00), 10. Walsh, 9. Poon, 1. Duvall (Zylstra @ 48:00), 2. Joyce, 3. Iscaro, 4. Golla, 5. Bader (Warnock @ 57:00), 6. Holland (Tuua-Burch @ 48:00), 7. Severance, 8. Casey (Freeman @ 36:00)

Quarterfinals: Cal 61, Arizona 16

In regular season PAC play, Cal defeated Arizona 55-13 to clinch the PAC title. In this second round postseason match, Arizona Wildcats had the early edge with two penalty kicks, but the Golden Bears finally awoke after the first 20 minutes and took control of the match well before the half. Bears did have a late hiccup when they were called for two yellow cards (man down for two minutes apiece) which resulted in two Arizona scores. They may not be able to afford that kind of mistakes the rest of this tournament. Nonetheless, 11 tries were scored by the Bears in another easy victory. Arizona had defeated Central Washington 28-19 in the first round.

The Scoring Timeline vs. Arizona

05:00 Arizona (Robert Figley) 3

18:00 Arizona (Robert Figley) 3

21:00 Troy Lockyear 5

24:00 Troy Lockyear 5

28:00 Nic Mirhashem 5

31:00 Henry Poon 5

40:00 Nathan Zylstra 5

Halftime Score: California 25, Arizona 6

44:00 Sam Cusano 5

48:00 Christian Dyer 5

58:00 Adam Roeske 5, Sam Walsh 2

65:00 Arizona (Zachary Biggs) 5

68:00 Nathan Zylstra 5, Sam Walsh 2

72:00 Arizona (Zachary Biggs) 5

74:00 Sam Golla 5

80:00 Ken Kurihara 5, Sam Walsh 2

Final Score: California 61, Arizona 16

The Team vs. Arizona 15.Lockyear (E. Webb @ 47:00), 14. Cusano, 13. Dyer, 12. Andrade, 11. A. Roeske, 10. E. Webb (Walsh @ 47:00), 9. Poon, 1. Duvall, 2. Zylstra, 3. Wiley (Joyce @ 62:00), 4. Salter, 5. Murphy, 6. Spradling, 7. Mirhashem (Severance @ 65:00), 8. Heaney (Casey @ 56:00)

FloRugby ($12.50 per month) have all the postseason matches On Demand.

Supposedly, the semifinal and final action will be on CBS Sports Network (hopefully live) as well as FloRugby.

Semifinal Preview/SMC match review

Golden Bears will face another familiar foe in the national semifinal match this coming Saturday from Moraga, CA (SMC’s home field). Bears will look to replicate the same result as when they defeated SMC Gaels 29-19 on March 30th from Witter Field in Berkeley.

SMC, the 2nd seed in the West in the postseason playoff bracket, defeated Grand Canyon 74-12 in the opening round. In their quarterfinal match (played at Witter Field after the Cal victory over Arizona), the SMC Gaels defeated West’s 3rd seed BYU 71-12 in a dominant outing. SMC scored 11 tries and their leading scorer was Sean Yacoubian with 2 tries and 6 conversions for 22 points.

The previous meeting between Cal and SMC was a back-and-forth affair. The upcoming semifinal match on Saturday will likely be another close match, where the side that minimizes their mistakes will prevail. Since that SMC match’s first half, it would appear that senior Elliot Webb has been replaced by freshman Sam Walsh as the conversion kicker; Webb actually started the first half against Arizona but did not convert any kicks. In what should be a very close match, the berth in the championship final may be decided by just one kick.

A too early look at the Eastern Division

The D1A Rugby did the smart thing in 2019 to separate the field into two geographical halves. The two surviving teams out East are the defending champs in Life University and the also very good Lindenwood Lions (the defending champs in both 2018 College Rugby 7s championships).

Life defeated Penn State 34-3 in the first round. Lindenwood routed Wisconsin by a 97-0 result.

Lindenwood had their hands full against a tough Arkansas State side (Arkansas State were who the Cal Bears defeated in the 2017 Varsity Cup final). In a close, see-saw affair, Lindenwood was ahead 19-18 and closed out the match by earning a penalty kick in the 80th minute to seal the win - 22-18 was the final result after the penalty conversion. One may see parity in the East as there being more than just two clear great teams or one may believe that the de facto championship final is this Western semifinal between Cal and SMC.

Life (9-0) and Lindenwood (22-4) will play for the right to travel to Santa Clara on May the Fourth (AKA Star Wars Day) for the D1A Rugby 15s championship against the winner of the Western Division.

D1A Rugby 15 semifinal: Cal vs. SMC

Where: Saint Mary’s Stadium (Moraga, CA)

When: 12 pm PT on Saturday, April 27th, 2019

TV: CBS Sports Network

Online: FloRugby

Interestingly, the Eastern Final (AKA the other semifinal) will be played after this one at 2:30 pm PT from Marietta, GA (home of Life) - also on the same TV/online stream platforms.