The Cal men’s rugby team has won the past three national championships in the seven-a-side format. But after three All-Americans graduated this past year, there was no way to be sure how the team would look this season. If its play at its first tournament of the season, the West Coast 7s, is any indicator, the team will be a strong contender for its fourth straight championship this year.
The Bears won all four of their matches Saturday and capped off the tournament with a 53-0 shutout win over Arizona State in the finals.
“We just got all the (time of) possession,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “They had to play all the defense, so we won these three starts by hanging onto the ball for large chunks of time. In the second half, we were able to put some subs on and not lose the ball, which is good.”
Cal beat Grand Canyon University 29-7 in the first game, running away with the match in the second half after going into halftime tied, 7-7. The second match was a less dramatic 31-7 win over Santa Barbara City College.
Senior center Anthony Salaber was key to the 29-14 win over UC Davis in the semifinals, scoring tries right before and after halftime, with senior flyhalf Russell Webb converting after both attempts. Salaber would also score two tries in the final, but sophomore wing William Fuller took on the majority of the scoring load with his three tries.
Clark was not highly impressed with the team’s first two games, so seeing it end the tournament on a huge win was reassuring.
“I thought we were only OK in the first couple games — our inexperience was showing,” Clark said. “But I was happy with our last two games. We found our stride and played more accurately. It’s always good to get a win, but it’s nothing to bang on. We’re still going to try and get better.”
This tournament is also notable for the return of Webb, who suffered a brutal injury and missed a portion of the spring schedule last year. He played a very important part in the team’s play throughout the tournament, scoring two tries and five conversions after subbing into the first game and starting in the last two.
“(Webb) is a very good tactician on the field — he keeps the whole thing on the rails,” Clark said. “He’s a playmaker. His kicking today was phenomenal, and it really gave us a chance to get a lot of possession of restarts. It was great to have him back out there.”
Webb has a chance to win the Sevens Collegiate National Championships for all four seasons he’s been on the squad if the team can do it again this year.
“Sevens is such a tough and harsh game — you can only look one tournament ahead,” Webb said. “We’re hosting a tournament in less than a month’s time, and you can’t start looking at other tournaments, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Andrew Wild covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].