PHILADELPHIA, PA — When Life gets you down, you expect to have the opportunity to bounce back the next day.
Unfortunately for Cal Rugby, they will NOT get the chance to be in a very competitive and fun top 8 of the 2019 Collegiate Rugby Championship to play for the championship trophy. When all the matches from Saturday’s Pool Play has concluded, Golden Bears found themselves in 9th place - just outside of the top 8 who advances to play for the big trophy on Sunday. Instead, Golden Bears will be the clear favorite in playing for the 9th place CRC “Plate” today.
In the previous 8 out of the 9 year history of the CRC when Cal has participated, Golden Bears have had a perfect record in Saturday’s Pool play. They ran that winning streak to 26 games after a dominant 47-0 opening win over Indiana and then a 41-14 victory of Colorado.
You knew that the Cal vs. Life match was going to be an epic struggle. Both Cal and Life braced for that final match of Pool C play by running up the scores against Indiana and Colorado so that the loser has a great shot of grabbing the two at-large bids for the final 8 (the other 6 spots goes to the 6 pool winners) where the margin of victory is the tie-breaker.
Against Life, Cal actually played a very strong match and held a 12-5 halftime lead which improved to 17-5 after a Christian Dyer try. With about two minutes left in the match, Golden Bears could not withhold a late charge by the Life Running Eagles to take destiny over their CRC fate. Life scored a try and conversion to get within 5 points. Feeling a lot of pressure, Bears allowed Life to not only score a game tying try (nemesis Harley Wheeler who has broken Cal’s heart in 15s championship finals the past two years) at the end of the match, but also a try that gave Life a gimme conversion attempt that they promptly converted to end the match with a 19-17 result.
It was easily the best match of the tournament on Saturday, but rugby fans will be denied a shot of a potential rematch on Sunday due to some unforeseen results.
Kutztown Golden Bears, runner-ups to Cal in a few CRC championship match, claimed the last at-large bid due to their greater point differentials compiled on the back of 54-0 rout over Wisconsin and 55-0 rout over Boston College. What was shocking was their 14-12 loss to Iona in their opening Pool play match. Kutztown’s point differential of 107 is better than that of 72 for the Cal Golden Bears.
The other unlikely result was a tie between UCLA, last year’s runner-up to Lindenwood, and Penn State in their pool play match. Both UCLA and Penn State managed to beat St. Bonaventure and Notre Dame in their other pool play matches so that both UCLA and Penn State finished ahead of an one-loss Golden Bears. Penn State’s point differential of just +21 makes them by far the worst of the top 8.
Heading into the top 8 shootout for the 2019 CRC titles are: Lindenwood, Life, Iona, Saint Mary’s, Navy, UCLA, Penn State, and Kutztown.
In the next 8 playing for the 9th place CRC Plate will be Cal, Virginia Tech, Arizona, Dartmouth, Wisconsin, St. Joseph, Army, and Clemson.
Bears will face Wisconsin in the opening round, then take on the winner of Virginia Tech and St. Joseph. Even if the Golden Bears are not as motivated to win this trophy, I don’t really see how they won’t easily win all three matches on Sunday.
In case you are wondering, I was traveling toward Philadelphia for the bulk of Saturday in preparation to see today’s championship stage where I had hope to see the Bears battle for their 6th CRC title in 7th year (Cal did not participate in the 2018 CRC after winning 5 straight before). It is obviously quite disappointing that the Bears won’t get that opportunity against the improved field of this tournament (SMC Gaels are here for the first time). Nonetheless, I guess I will savor this opportunity to see Cal Rugby on the East Coast even with this diminished level of competition for today.
For those at home, the Plate Final will be televised by ESPNews at around 1:10 PM PT. The Plate semifinals should be a part of the ESPN+ coverage at around 10:18 AM PT.