On the heel of the Cal Rugby win over St. Mary’s College on Saturday, the Golden Bears earned the top seed in the West of the announced 2019 D1A College Rugby postseason. After some controversy with a last minute national semifinal reshuffling of matchups to minimize on travel costs, this year’s D1A College Rugby postseason has a separate East vs. West bracket. After the folding of the Varsity Cup competition as a parallel collegiate rugby 15s national championship, Cal Rugby will be playing in the USA Rugby’s D1A national championship for the 2nd consecutive year.
With more and more schools having a rugby team, D1A Rugby postseason is starting to resemble other sports’ postseason with the introduction of regular season qualification for the post season in recent years. California Golden Bears (15-1, 4-0 in the PAC conference) earns their postseason spot by winning the PAC conference against the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and Utah. Both Arizona and UCLA also earned a postseason berth into the field of 16 teams as the 4th and 3rd seeded teams in the West, respectively.
Cal will begin their quest for the program’s 27th Rugby 15s National Championship on Saturday, April 13th at 1 pm PT from Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley against UC Davis.
Here is the full postseason bracket (that should be much easier to fill out than your March Madness one):
The West Coast teams are Cal (1), Saint Mary’s (2), BYU (3), Arizona (4), Central Washington (5), UCLA (6), Grand Canyon (7), and UC Davis (8). On the other side of the bracket, the defending champs (over Cal in the final last year) Life is the top seed; they are joined by Army (2), Wisconsin (3), Oklahoma (4), Navy (5), Lindenwood (6), Arkansas State (7), and Penn State (8).
All matches in the postseason will be streamed on FloRugby ($11.99 for a month of subscription).
By virtue of beating SMC, Cal avoided that 2nd in the West spot where they would have had to beat BYU and SMC separately en route to a return trip to the championship final. Instead, Cal will now likely have a rematch against UC Davis (beat them 136-0 in January) and Arizona (55-13 in late March) before a rematch against the SMC Gaels.
Golden Bears will get to spend the entire tournament basically at home as they will host the first two rounds of action (Round of 16 on April 13th and Elite Eight on April 20th). SMC (whether they are playing in that match or not) will host the Western Final on April 27th in Moraga. The D1A Rugby Championships, scheduled for May 4th, will once again be played in Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara, which hosted not only the D1A Rugby Championship final last year but also the Varsity Cup championship final (won by Cal) two years ago.
The budget conscious Cal Athletics probably love that Cal Rugby is keeping their travel cost down. More importantly, Cal fans in the Bay Area won’t have to travel far to support their Golden Bears.
While last year’s squad, who made both the championship finals of the 15s and 7s postseasons, was a bit young, this year’s Cal squad is considerably more experienced and physically mature. Equally as important, I don’t think the rest of the field is as daunting this year. Life University, the defending champs, are 7-0 on the season but only managed a 19-18 home win over Navy in early March. SMC (16-1 with their lone loss to Cal) may be the biggest threat to Cal’s postseason hopes. Regardless of Cal’s regular finale win over SMC, the Gaels will have home field advantage in that potential national semifinal match. Nonetheless, head coach Jack Clark’s men probably learned a lot about themselves and what to improve upon from this past Saturday’s close, come-from-behind victory.
The Cal starting lineup vs. SMC should be the main one for this postseason run, barring injuries. This was how the Bears lined it up this past Saturday.
Gameday! Projected starters for the Golden Bears in last match of regular season as Cal hosts SMC at 12:00 PT w reserve grade to follow 1st XV on Witter Rugby Field. Gates open 11 a.m. #GoBears! pic.twitter.com/h19sFCFVlU— Cal Varsity Rugby (@CalVarsityRugby) March 30, 2019
The majority of the squad are juniors and seniors, led by senior captain in Nic Mirhashem, particularly in the front line. Bears also do play a few underclassmen in sophomores in Marcus Shankland and Adam Roseks as well as freshman Henry Poon, all as speedy backs. There also may be some uncertainty at the flyhalf spot after senior Ellito Webb (younger brother of Cal great Russell) was replaced by freshman Sam Walsh at the half after Webb’s struggle kicking on Saturday; I would bet on the senior still getting the starting nod, however.
Also in the mix in the West is BYU, Cal’s long time nemesis in the Varsity Cup championship finals. BYU struggled during the fall after a head coaching change in the offseason, but has since righted the ship in the spring. The BYU Cougars have lost twice to SMC already this season, however.
Expect the Bears to roll past UC Davis and then beat Arizona/Central Washington in round 2. The likely rematch against SMC in the national semifinal may be the biggest match of the tournament for the Bears. A chance to avenge for last year’s championship final loss to Life is very probable.
With 31 team national titles between rugby 15s (26) and rugby 7s (5), Cal Rugby, the winningest program in Cal Athletics, is poised to be the program that win the University’s 100th team national championship (men’s swimming and diving just earned Cal’s 99th team national title this past weekend).
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
Additionally, Cal has listed the National Collegiate 7s Championship on their schedule as their bid to also win that Rugby 7s national championship after falling short in the final to Lindenwood a year ago. This year, the USA Rugby’s National Collegiate 7s Championship will be played in Tucson, Arizona on May 24th to 26th from Kino Sports Complex.
It would appear that the Golden Bears will forgo the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) in Chester, PA (just outside Philadelphia) for the 2nd straight year after winning that rugby 7s title for 5 straight years. The CRC lost NBC as their TV sponsor (though the matches are streamed on ESPN3) coincided with Cal’s decision to not travel that far East. Interestingly, SMC will be playing in the CRC this year. There is also the slim possibility that Cal might try to play in both collegiate rugby 7s championships - Lindenwood actually won both tournaments last year.