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Cal Rugby 7s returns to Collegiate Rugby Championship this weekend after an year away

Golden Bears had won 5 straight CRC (collegiate rugby 7s national championships) before opting to play another tournament in 2018.

Cal Rugby 7s will make a return trip to the Philadelphia area this weekend
Cal Athletics Twitter

We are fast approaching June 2nd, 2019, a day that I had already written about concerning how the California Golden Bears may win as many as 3 national titles on that day (they also might win none). Now we know also that Cal Baseball will likely be playing in some pivotal postseason baseball on that day as well (barring the Bears being eliminated on Saturday), let’s preview arguably the best opportunity for Cal to hoist a national championship that day - Cal Rugby 7s’ quest for their 6th Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship title.

Last year, Cal Rugby opts to participate in two different contests for the 15s and 7s than the previous year when the Golden Bears won the double of both rugby 15s and rugby 7s national championships. The collapse of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup competition meant that the Bears played in the D1A Rugby 15s championship run by USA Rugby. The lost of NBC as a broadcasting partner to the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) also cause the Bears to pick the D1A Rugby 7s championship run by USA Rugby as the year ending rugby 7s competition. This year, the Golden Bears are back in the CRC likely due to both the extra week of preparation time and improvement to the CRC pool with the addition of Cal’s Bay Area rival St. Mary’s College into the field.

For those wondering about the 2019 College 7s National Championship that took place in Tucson last weekend, Lindenwood became a 3x repeat champion of that competition. Yes, Lindenwood beat the Bears in the championship final last year. Lindenwood will also compete in the CRC in 2019 after winning their first CRC in 2018.

In 2019, Cal is placed in Pool C with an interesting team - Life, who defeated Cal in the 15s national title match for the past two years. Golden Bears are a perfect 4-0 against Life at the CRC with those victories coming in Sunday’s knock-out stage (technically, the first win was in a 3rd place match, back when that was a thing). This potential “Group of Death” will also include Colorado and Indiana. There are a total of 6 groups in this 24 team tournament. The 6 group winners and 2 next best teams (thanks to the margin of victory as tiebreaker) will advanced to Sunday’s championship knock-out stage.

For Group Play, Golden Bears are scheduled to play, on Saturday,

Indiana at 8:10 AM PT on ESPN+

Colorado at 10:30 AM PT on ESPNews

Life at 12:30 PM PT on ESPN+

That match against Life will be very interesting as there will be plenty of familiar faces on both sides from the epic rugby 15s championship last month when Life edges Cal 29-26 in an extremely even match.

In Cal’s long history of playing at the CRC (started in 2010 and Cal has participated every year other than 2018), they have never dropped a group play match, going a perfect 24-0 in 8 years of action.

You can find the full list of 24 teams here. The other likely Group winners include defending champ Lindenwood in Pool A, UCLA (last year’s runner-up) or Penn State from Pool B, Kutztown in Pool D, St. Mary’s in Pool E, and Army or Navy from Pool F. Including Cal and Life from Pool C, you should find the teams that are most likely to make it to Sunday’s knock-out stage for the championships.

This is SMC’s first venture into the CRC. In 15s earlier this year, Cal edges the SMC Gaels thanks to the last play Sam Cusano try in the national semifinal.

The CRC 2019 will culminate with the championship match at 1:30 PM PT on Sunday, June 2nd on ESPNews. ESPN2 will have the Cup quarterfinal matches from earlier on Sunday while ESPNews will have the semifinal match.

Only a few of the 12 Cal players heading across the country have CRC 7s experience, although junior winger Sam Cusano was the MVP two years ago. Also back from two years ago are senior captain Nic Mirhashem and junior Christian Dyer. The rest of the Golden Bears squad will be playing in their first CRC also several of them did play in the 2018 College 7s National Championship last year.

The rest of the team heading to Philly (though the tournament technically takes place in Chester, PA a 30 minute drive south of the city) includes senior Elliot Webb (whose brother Russell was instrumental in Cal’s 5 CRC wins) and Troy Lockyear, junior Ken Kurihara, sophomores Sam Golla, Adam Roeske, and Marcus Shankland, and freshmen Henry Poon, Sam Walsh, and Jason Severance.

Also most likely back (barring a last minute change of plan) to the CRC is yours truly. My 5 trips to cover the CRC in person have coincided with the 5 Cal championships - let’s put that streak to the test even if it’s clear that Russell Webb’s presence for those 5 CRCs is significantly more important to Cal’s overall success than me bumbling around the stadium.