After winning its first four games, the Cal rugby team finished off the PAC 7s in Tuscon, Arizona, with a championship win versus Arizona State. The Bears tallied 188 points while only giving up 43 over the course of the five-game slate to bring their fall season record to 14-1.
Cal opened the weekend with pool play Nov. 12 against Oregon and won 24-5, then went on to play Colorado, winning 44-0 behind three tries from freshman Christian Dyer. Cal ended the day by defeating ASU 40-19 with two tries and three conversions from captain Russell Webb. Webb and Dyer were the team’s catalysts with each scoring 20 points en route to a 3-0 record on the day.
After Saturday’s action, Cal then played UCLA on Sunday in a semi-final match and won 33-5 to advance to the prized PAC 7s championship versus ASU, where it won 47-14. The match was ignited by Webb and freshman Sam Cusano, who scored three tries in the first half of the match against the Sun Devils.
“I thought we were just OK the first day. We won our games, but I think our performance was a little below what we’re capable of,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “I thought we were good (Sunday) in both games. We came out and scored tries early, and we defended well early and built ourselves a cushion. I thought our performance built over the weekend.”
Cal is now 14-1 on the season, with its only loss coming against UC Davis at the Treasure Island West Coast Collegiate 7s on Oct. 22 to Oct. 23, where the roster was made of exclusively freshman and sophomore players.
The team looked dialed in against two great opponents in UCLA and ASU, who are considered among the strongest rugby teams in the country.
“All the focus was there,” Webb said. “The concentration was there, and that’s what got us through a tough UCLA game and an even tougher ASU game.”
Though Cal has seasoned and established players with the likes of seniors Webb and Anthony Salaber, young players are contributing to the team’s success as well.
Players such as Cusano and Dyer are finding their way into the rotation and emerging as integral pieces for Cal. The roster has depth that coach Clark can turn to and rely upon as the team transitions into 15s play.
This depth gives the coaching staff options and different players they can utilize, as the rotation is crafted from match to match.
“I think we have a tendency to want to trust our reserves to go out and give us quality minutes,” Clark said. “I think, for the most part, they did that. I think they learned a lot of lessons, though, and that’s another big reason to do it, and there are certain lessons you get from actually competing and those lessons are important.”
The roster’s depth and versatility was showcased throughout the weekend and especially on Sunday, when rotational players entered the game and Cal didn’t seem to skip a beat.
Cusano and Dyer stepping up is a great sign that the Bears have confidence in their young guys, who are going to keep getting better with time and experience.
“Christian Dyer stepped up, Sam Cusano was absolutely brilliant all weekend, and we are lucky to have guys like them who can start or come off the bench and the quality of our game doesn’t change,” Webb said.
Finishing 7s play, the Bears will next prep for the ensuing Rugby 15s season, which begins Jan. 14 to Jan. 15 at the Dennis Storer Classic at UCLA.
Contact Ryan Groves at [email protected].