BERKELEY – With gutty performances across their lineup and two long-range, momentum-shifting tries off interceptions by inside center Jared Braun, the Golden Bears held the British Columbia Thunderbirds at bay to secure a 33-24 win in the “World Cup” opener Saturday afternoon on Witter Rugby Field.
UBC outside center Nate Rees scored two tries for the visitors as the T-Birds (12-1) suffered their first loss of the year. California (8-0) now carries a nine-point advantage into the rematch in Thunderbird Stadium March 23 in Vancouver, where Cal will attempt to win the two-match series decided by total points in both matches.
“The whole UBC outfit played really well but to our guys, a really courageous performance,” said captain Seamus Kelly. “The guys up front that needed to put up a big performance really stepped up and played well. It was a team win in the full sense of the word.”
Sophomore tighthead prop George Vrame took a leap forward in experience, as did Michael Bush in his first major test at hooker, while loosehead Tanner Mohr anchored a front row that came into the contest knowing it would be tested by UBC’s Paul Ahn, Alex Mascotte, Alex Kam and the entire Thunderbird pack. They joined their teammates in the forwards and the Cal backline to deny a potent British Columbia attack with determined defense.
“It was a really brave victory and it’s hard to express how appreciative I am of the effort our boys put in. We played really hard,” said head coach Jack Clark. “When you put your hand up for selection in this match, you’re asking for responsibility and I think team really delivered. With the exception of a few moments we played fantastic defense. We read what was before us in attack well, which resulted in some big tackles and the two intercepts by Jared. We have some inexperience and new roles in the forwards, but they battled hard and collectively had some big moments.”
After a high tackle penalty by wing Andrew Battaglia gave the T-Birds a lineout near the Cal 22 in the seventh minute, UBC launched a set-piece attack that had Witter Rugby Field’s large crowd on eggshells before Braun stepped into a passing lane, stole the ball and raced 85 meters for the first try of the match.
Fullback Jake Anderson was perfect with his boot in the first half, nailing two penalty kicks and both his conversion attempts, and Cal controlled the first 40 minutes with outstanding all-around play to lead, 20-5, at the break.
Top-tier intensity continued throughout the second half as Cal scored two more tries, with a penalty kick added by sophomore Harry Adolphus, and UBC scored three, pulling the Birds battling back to within four points at 28-24 before Braun, a senior from Redwood City, pulled another rabbit out of his hat with his second interception just inside Cal’s side of midfield. Appearing to favor his hamstring over the final 15 meters, Braun was not to be denied as he dove across in the left corner for a vital insurance try.
“The gameplan was to pressure on defense. In both cases I read a pass coming,” Braun said of his scoring plays. “When you’re up against a team like UBC you have to keep going. We gave full measure and we’re going to have to give full measure again in Vancouver or that nine-point advantage will be nothing.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Cal program and its athletes. They were excellent,” said UBC head coach Ramses Langston.
“Maybe it wasn’t the most experienced Cal forward pack but they’re still a really big and physical pack, no matter what happens,” added T-Birds general manager Spence McTavish.
No. 8 Tiaan De Nysschen, a second-half try scorer, echoed the satisfaction his team felt with their effort: “The young guys really stepped up and for all of us to get big-game minutes under our belts is really going to help us as we keep going forward.”
Before the match, Witter Rugby Field observed a moment of silence in memory of football student-athlete Ted Agu, who died on February 7. Both teams then put on a display of skill and determination that typifies the “World Cup,” inaugurated in 1921 by the Vancouver World newspaper, as a premier cross-border intercollegiate competition.
Next up for the Bears is a midweek match against Santa Clara, which comes to Strawberry Canyon Wednesday night, Feb. 19, for a 6:30 p.m. start under the lights. After that, Cal hosts UCLA in PAC Rugby Conference play in the first-ever rugby match televised live by Pac-12 Networks, with a 1 p.m. start on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The Scoring Timeline vs. British Columbia
10:00 UBC (Nate Rees) 5
20:00 Jake Anderson 3
30:00 Jake Anderson 3
Halftime Score: California 20, British Columbia 5
46:00 Tiaan De Nysschen 5
48:00 UBC (Bryan Tyrer) 5, 2
56:00 Harry Adolphus 3
61:00 UBC (Nate Rees) 5, (Bryan Tyrer) 2
68:00 UBC (Sean Ferguson) 5
72:00 Jared Braun 5
Final Score: California 33, British Columbia 24
The Team vs. British Columbia
15. Anderson (Adolphus @ 45:00), 14. Battaglia, 13. Kelly ©, 12. Braun (Milne @ 73:00), 11. Tucker, 10. Webb, 9. Bosco, 1. Mohr (Walsh @ , 2. Bush (Walsh @ 73:00), 3. Vrame (C. Fry @ 73:00), 4. Kondrat, 5. Coleman, 6. O'Beirne, 7. Gletzer, 8. De Nysschen