The Cal rugby team has quite a reputation in the United States, having won a staggering 26 national championships in program history, including the 2011 title.
With the opening of the Rugby World Cup on Sept. 11, the Cal name reaches the international stage.
More than any university or even junior national squad, the Bears send an unparalleled eight former players to the US national team, seven as players and one as an assistant coach. The Cal contingent makes up almost a fourth of the roster.
“Those guys reaching this milestone makes me really, really happy for them,” Cal coach Jack Clark said. “But I also feel satisfied for the rugby program, that we’re contributing in the way we are collectively, and for our university, not just the rugby program, to the success of these players.”
Current Stanford coach and former Bear assistant coach and player Matt Sherman will coach the backs, including Colin Hawley and recent graduate Blaine Scully.
They join former Bears Chris Biller, Eric Fry, Mike MacDonald, Brian McClenahan and Louis Stanfill, who will serve as forwards on the national squad.
“I was hopeful for every one of them because I knew they were in the running, but typically you just get caught up in a numbers game,” Clark said. “The idea that it would work out for really every one of them is pretty unique.”
Since rugby has not been included in the Olympics since 1924, the Rugby World Cup falls just behind the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup as the globe’s most watched event.
With this being an off-year for the Olympics and the World Cup, rugby will take center stage as the world’s biggest sporting event this year.
“It’s a huge honor for me representing not only my country, but Cal,” said Scully, who captained last year’s national championship squad.
In order to get a plane ticket to New Zealand and a red, white and blue uniform, players had to make incredible sacrifices, Clark said.
Scully was fortunate in that such an opportunity came on the heels of graduation, and both MacDonald and Stanfill play professionally overseas. For the other players, getting to this point has involved a less than steady post-collegiate life.
Clark said more than just these seven players have come through his program with the level of talent to make the national team. Many pursue graduate study or a fulfilling job.
A select few “tread water looking for this opportunity,” taking less than desirable jobs that allow them the flexibility to travel on little notice to earn a spot on the team, according to Clark.
Unfortunately for these former Bears, the American team is not projected to fare well against highly-professional sides. The squad opens against Ireland, which is projected to go deep into the tournament.
“I think a lot of the celebration unfortunately for these guys is in making the team and having the opportunity and responsibility of representing the United States in such a large, significant sporting event,” Clark said.