SALT LAKE CITY – No. 1 California beat No. 8 Utah, 43-31, Saturday to claim its second straight PAC Rugby Conference 15s title.
Scoring six tries, including two apiece from Josh Tucker and Tiaan De Nysschen, the Golden Bears (15-0 5-0 PAC) withstood a five-try effort from Utah (4-2, 3-2 PAC), which got two of those from lock Matt Ball.
“We play in a tough conference and we’re happy to go home with a victory,” said De Nysschen. “Utah played well but we try to hold ourselves to constant performance improvement and I’m not sure that we accomplished that today.”
Sophomore fullback Harry Adolphus notched 13 points on five conversions (5-of-6) and a penalty kick (1-of-2) to help the Bears get by the Utes, whose placekicker, Tonata Lauti, connected on 3-of-5 conversions.
Cal achieved the PAC crown Saturday with a lineup featuring first-choice players mixed with reserves who stepped into the fray. A significant youth streak included starting sophomores Russell Webb at flyhalf and Adolphus at fullback; a second row comprised of starters James Kondrat, a sophomore, and Tomas Zerbio, a freshman; and a starting front row featuring hooker Michael Bush, a junior in his first season at No. 2, and sophomore George Vrame at tighthead prop. When senior center Jared Braun was forced to leave with an early injury, he was replaced by sophomore Anthony Salaber.
The Bears were able to succeed without captain Seamus Kelly, the reigning College Player of the Year who has taken a leave to assemble with the U.S. National Team in preparation for its two Rugby World Cup Qualifiers against Uruguay. All-America fullback Jake Anderson was also unavailable as he continues to mend an injury.
“Playing against Cal comes with their aura of being the best program in the country, and they’ve earned it,” said Utah attacks coach John Law. “Cal is so difficult to build pressure on, they’re so good at the breakdown. They gave us some good lessons today. “
Cal has only 48 hours to recover before the Bears host a special St. Patrick’s Day edition of Monday Night Rugby on March 17, when perennial Ivy champion Dartmouth College visits Witter Rugby Field at 6:30 p.m. Festivities to celebrate St. Paddy’s will abound as the Blue and Gold host No. 22 Big Green.
Two more serious challenges also await Cal before this year’s postseason begins: first, the Bears travel to Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver, Canada, for the “World Cup” finale at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 23, against the British Columbia Thunderbirds; after that, Cal concludes its regular season Saturday, April 5, in Moraga against Saint Mary’s at 1 p.m.
After those mega-matches close the regular season, the postseason gets underway in the Super Regional round of the Varsity Cup National Championships on Saturday, April 19, in Westwood, where Cal will face the winner of the previous weekend’s first-round clash between UCLA and Oklahoma (see bracket here). Should the Rugby Bears advance, they will host that April 26 semifinal against Utah, Air Force or Central Washington on Witter Rugby Field.
The final of the Varsity Cup National Championships takes place Saturday, May 3, in Rio Tinto Stadium outside of Salt Lake City and will be televised live on NBC Sports Network. For tickets and other information, visit VarsityCup.us.
Following the finale of their 15s season, the Bears will return to Philadelphia May 31-June 1 for the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s, also to be broadcast by NBC Sports Network and NBC.
For CRC tickets, please make all purchases via http://www.usasevenscrc.com/tickets/cal.
The Scoring Timeline vs. Utah
11:00 James Kondrat 5
15:00 Utah (Jacob Morrison) 5
36:00 Utah (Matt Ball) 5
Halftime Score: California 26, Utah 10
44:00 Utah (Matt Ball) 5, (Tonata Lauti) 2
67:00 Harry Adolphus 3
73:00 Utah (Austin Taylor) 5, (Tonata Lauti) 2
80:00 Utah (Taylor Thomas) 5, (Tonata Lauti) 2
Final Score: California 43, Utah 31
The Team vs. Utah
15. Adolphus, 14. Tucker, 13. Harrington (A. Salaber @ 21:00), 12. Braun (Harrington @ 21:00), 11. Milne, 10. Webb, 9. Bosco (Boyer @ 50:00), 1. Mohr (Walsh @ 61:00), 2. Bush (Mohr @ 61:00), 3. Vrame, 4. Kondrat (Bowman @ 72:00), 5. Zerbino, 6. O’Beirne (Tandy @ 67:00), 7. Gletzer, 8. De Nysschen