Bears Meet BYU in National Championship Saturday
BERKELEY – California and Brigham Young meet in the Varsity Cup National Championship final Saturday, May 3, at 2 p.m. MT in Rio Tinto Stadium, where the Golden Bears (18-2, 5-0 PAC) and Cougars (17-1) will square off in the title match for the eighth time in the last 10 years. The match will be televised live on NBC Sports Network from 1-3 p.m. PT.
Cal advanced to Saturday’s final with a 58-14 win over Central Washington April 26 on Witter Rugby Field, while BYU blanked Navy on South Field in Provo, 60-0, in the other Varsity Cup semifinal to advance to Saturday’s championship showdown.
The Bears, who have won five of their last seven meetings (2006-08, 2010-11) in championship settings, have an all-time record of 9-2 against BYU. Brigham Young beat the Bears in 2009 by the score of 25-22 and most recently in the 2013 Varsity Cup final, where the Cougars defeated Cal, 27-24, on a last-minute drop goal by flyhalf Jonny Linehan.
Cal-BYU All-Time Series
Year Score Winner Location National Champion
1981 12-11 Cal Santa Barbara, CA (P) Cal
1983 44-6 Cal Provo, UT (P) Cal
1984 15-10 Cal Long Beach, CA (P) Harvard
2001 33-22 Cal Berkeley, CA (R) Cal
2006 29-26 Cal Stanford, CA (NCC) Cal
2007 37-7 Cal Stanford, CA (NCC) Cal
2008 59-7 Cal Stanford, CA (NCC) Cal
2009 25-22 BYU Stanford, CA (NCC) BYU
2010 19-7 Cal Stanford, CA (NCC) Cal
2011 21-14 Cal Sandy, UT (NCC) Cal
2013 27-24 BYU Provo, UT (VCC) BYU
(P) Pacific Coast Championships
(R) Regular Season
(NCC) National Collegiate Championship
(VCC) Varsity Cup Championship
Having fought their way through injuries and adversity this season to face BYU for the national title, Cal is led by senior outside center Seamus Kelly, the All-American and U.S. National Team player who will be competing in his final 15s match for the Bears to end his unprecedented third year as team captain. Around Kelly will be a wide spectrum of experience, with only two other graduating players expected in the starting lineup.
The Bears are particularly young in the tight five, with three of those five players underclassmen, which could be a concern in a contest against the powerful Cougars. Sophomore George Vrame will start in the crucial tighthead prop position in front of a likely freshman and sophomore second-row pairing of Tomas Zerbino and James Kondrat.
Jake Anderson will anchor the deep three once again at No. 15, with Andrew Battaglia back after returning from injury at one wing opposite sophomore Harry Adolphus as the Bears shore up the loss to injury of All-American Josh Tucker. Also lost for this championship in the centers is 2013 championship starter Jared Braun and his replacement in that match, Jesse Milne, whose ball-carrying set up Kelly’s tying try before Linehan’s drop goal snuffed Cal’s 2013 title hopes. Sophomore Russell Webb is the likely pick to go opposite Linehan in the No. 10 jersey on Saturday.
At scrumhalf, the Bears are hopeful to see a return from injury by Nicklas Boyer, who hasn’t played at all this postseason after playing all 80 minutes in the 2013 final, as well as Paul Bosco, who was unavailable in last year’s final after his season-ending injury. In the forwards, the back row looks to be a repeat combination of the 2013 final with Jack O’Beirne, All-American Alec Gletzer and Tiaan De Nysschen, while the front row looks to include Tanner Mohr at hooker, where he will bind with props Scott Walsh, a junior, and Vrame. Cal will miss the mobility of injured starter Michael Bush.
Brigham Young is led by captain Kyle Sumsion, a 6-2, 240-pound All-America flanker who has earned two international appearances with the U.S. National Team. Also returning from the 2013 final is South African scrumhalf Luke Mocke, who can be spelled at No. 9 by Joseph Nicholls from Zimbabwe. Linehan is also back in the No. 10 jersey for BYU having scored 22 points against the Bears in the 2013 title match, and the flyhalf from Auckland, New Zealand, will once again have a fellow Kiwi in his backline in the form of 6-0, 227-pound Paul Lasike, who also sits atop the BYU football depth chart for fullbacks this spring coming off a fall campaign that included 87 rushing yards and a touchdown in BYU’s win over Texas. The centers have also been filled well by Lelann Latu, while the Whippy brothers from Fiji, Josh and Jared, are additional threats from fullback and the midfield in continuance of the lineup’s Southern Hemisphere contributors.
Brigham Young has won its national postseason matches so far this spring by the combined score of 130-15 and will be looking for an aura of homefield advantage in Rio Tinto Stadium, located 40 miles from the BYU campus. A boisterous Cougars crowd will be hoping to see BYU continue the success it’s had at home in 2014, including wins over St. Mary’s, 35-21 on March 8, and 2013 Elite Cup Champion San Francisco Golden Gate, 45-33 on March 29.
Regarding BYU’s casting as favorites for Saturday’s championship, “Cal has been prohibitive favorites before, so we have an appreciation for that role,” said head coach Jack Clark. “In this instance, we are unquestionably the underdogs. This status doesn’t deter us – we prefer the clarity.”
Brigham Young’s home result against common opponent Cal Poly –a 37-22 home win compared to the Bears’ 95-14 trouncing of the Mustangs in San Luis Obispo – gives Cal fans slight cause for optimism. But nobody, including Cal head coach Jack Clark, is naïve to the fact that the Rugby Bears will be facing the best when they attempt to win the Varsity Cup National Championship final on Saturday.
“Our path to victory is narrow,” said coach Clark. “Against BYU, our victory conditions require a high degree of precision. A degree of accuracy with which our opposition isn’t burdened. In fact, BYU is so lethal, they can turn over a significant percentage of their possessions and still blow teams out.”
The Bears’ victory conditions for the championship final pose a huge challenge as they end their 15s season on collegiate rugby’s most dramatic stage, and Cal will strive to rise to the occasion
Tickets for the 2014 Varsity Cup National Championship final can be purchased at http://calbea.rs/1u0xLQG to be grouped with fellow Cal fans at Rio Tinto Stadium by entering promotion code “CalRugby.”
After Saturday’s finale to the spring 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.