Sevens tourney offers change of pace to end 2011

The Cal rugby team may have won the national championship two weeks ago, but its season isn’t over.

The Bears return to action this weekend in 2011 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship in PPL Park in Philadelphia, Penn. Coach Jack Clark’s squad will open pool play against Ohio State at 7:20 a.m. PT.

Rather than the standard 15 in typical collegiate competition, this weekend’s invitational tournament is seven-a-side — the type of rugby that will be played in the Olympics, when the sport makes its return to the Games in 2016 after a 92-year hiatus.

“It’s more individual,” CPD Pacific Player of the Year Danny Barrett said. “You kind of get to do your own thing, show your own style … It’s more relaxed, it’s more fun.”

Aside from the number of players on the field, sevens rugby differs in other aspects of the game.

Rather than the typical 40-minute halves, there will be seven-minute halves this weekend. Instead of receiving a kickoff after a scoring drive, the team that scores a try will kickoff to the other team. Conversions that are normally teed up will be taken as drop kicks, and there will be three-man scrums.

“It’s a little bit different of an approach,” co-captain Blaine Scully said. “15’s is definitely more based on tactics, kicking, and percentages; whereas sevens is really based on athleticism and skills. We feel like those really play to our advantage.”

Cal finds itself at a bit of a disadvantage since its collegiate season extended past all other teams in the field. As a result of playing in the national title game, the Bears had less time to prepare for this tournament.

The team isn’t worried, though. Cal faced a similar turnaround last year, and tore through the first day of the tournament unscathed. The Bears ultimately fell in overtime of the invitational’s title game to Utah, 31-26.

While Cal had to hurry up and transition to the new game, the team will have to slow itself down to play well this weekend.

“You’ve got to show a lot more patience,” Clark said. “It requires you to stay away from the defense a little bit more, and use your passing skills to move the ball around and find some space.”

The Bears are guaranteed three matches on Saturday. After taking on the Buckeyes, Cal will face LSU at 11 a.m., followed by Penn State at 1 p.m. The latter two games will be televised live: the match against the Tigers will air on VERSUS, while the contest against the Nittany Lions will be broadcast on NBC.

The semifinals and finals of the tournament will take place on Sunday. Cal’s semifinal would begin at 11:47 a.m., on Versus, while the final kickoff would be on 2:19 p.m., on NBC.