BERKELEY – The No. 1 Golden Bears seeks their second straight PAC Rugby Conference 15s title when they visit the No. 8 Utes at 1 p.m. MT Saturday on campus at the University of Utah.
California (14-0, 4-0 PAC) will win the conference outright with a win over Utah (4-1, 3-1 PAC). The Utes can also become PAC champions with a win over Cal combined with a loss by UCLA the same day to visiting Arizona. The Bruins, too, harbor hopes for the conference title, which would go to UCLA if it scored four tries in a victory over Arizona, earning the Bruins a bonus point, and the Utes beat the Bears but failed to earn a bonus point of their own.
Although other, more elaborate scenarios could also give Cal the 2014 PAC 15s title, one is crystal clear: if the Bears beat Utah Saturday, Cal wins the PAC title for the second spring in a row (venue map and directions: https://goo.gl/maps/YDN2Z).
The Blue and Gold will be tasked to succeed on Saturday without captain Seamus Kelly, the reigning College Player of the Year who has taken a three-week leave to assemble with the U.S. National Team in preparation for its two Rugby World Cup Qualifiers against Uruguay, the first on March 22 in Montevideo, Uruguay, and the second on March 29 outside of Atlanta. Kelly, who has seven career appearances on the national team, all made between May and November of 2013, will also miss the Bears’ regular-season finale against Dartmouth on St. Patrick’s Day and the return to Vancouver for the “World Cup” decider at British Columbia on March 23.
Last March, Cal won the PAC 15s title with a 51-29 win over the Utes on Witter Rugby Field, but in their previous visit to Utah, on March 3, 2012, the Bears barely edged the Utes, 23-22, on a come-from-behind, match-winning penalty kick by Jake Anderson as time expired at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Anderson is still recovering from injury and will also not be available for Saturday’s match, putting placekicking responsibilities on the foot of sophomore Harry Adolphus, who has not previously played the Utes.
Led by director of rugby Mark Drown and head coach Haloti Liava’a, who played rugby and football for the Utes, Utah opened its spring with a 17-7 win over Arizona in Las Vegas and has also beaten ASU and Oregon State in conference play, with an additional nonconference victory over Weber State. The Utes, who feature dangerous threats in junior backs Nata Lauti and Dan Christensen, will force the Bears to earn their way to the PAC crown in the first of a challenging homestretch to the regular season.
“The Utah match begins a string of difficult and important contests,” said head coach Jack Clark. “We will be without Seamus Kelly, in my view the best player in collegiate rugby, as well as several other first-choice players who are sidelined with injury. It will take a united team effort to succeed over the next several weeks.”
After their trip to Salt Lake City, the Bears will come home and get right back on the job for the 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. The next opportunity for fan to see Cal at home wouldn’t be until April 26, when the Bears hope to have played into the Varsity Cup National Championships semifinal and host that match as the higher seed.
But two more serious challenges await Cal before the 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 top-ranked 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.