On Sunday, the morning drizzle that had coated the first two matches of the second day of the PAC Rugby 7s Championship finally began to desist just before noon, as the Cal band began its rendition of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Can’t Stop.” The rain cleared as if in anticipation of the Cal rugby team taking the field against Arizona State in the Cup Semifinals. The song was an apt choice, given what had transpired Saturday and what would continue to occur — Cal winning, on its way to a fourth consecutive tournament championship.
Cal had gone 4-0 in its games Saturday and was preparing to bring the Sun Devils to the same fate that it had brought Stanford, 45-0; Colorado, 55-0; Utah, 41-5; and Oregon State, 61-0. On this first day, the Bears scored 32 tries, allowing only one.
Against Arizona State, televised Sunday on the Pac-12 Network, it was more of the same for the Bears. They scored early and often, and in 14 minutes’ handiwork, they took the game, 34-10. Their next and final test, however, would be much more daunting.
After beating Utah in the other semifinals match, UCLA entered the championship game with knowledge of a Bears team that it has played so many times before.
“We know (UCLA) pretty well — we know they’re good,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “They know how to come out and take away what we want to do.”
The Bruins tried their best to spoil Cal’s fun, challenging every facet of the Bears’ game plan. Passes that are usually standard procedure were suddenly clogged, and a Cal team that usually wins by out-thinking its opponents was forced to win by sheer physical dominance. After a final 14 minutes of exhausting attack and a number of goal-line stands, the Bears were able to look up at the scoreboard and claim victory, 17-5.
“Our overall shape of the game was really messy today,” said senior center Anthony Salaber. “Today wasn’t the most attractive 7s or the best 7s we’ve ever played at all, but we ground it out as a team, arm in arm, and we found a way to pull it out.”
While the victory over UCLA wasn’t the picturesque pillaging of their previous five bouts over the weekend, the 17-0 Bears ended up doing what they have done all season — win. Cal ended the tournament with a two-day total of 253 points and scored 41 tries while allowing only four, giving the team a +238 point differential on the weekend: gaudy numbers for a unit that is still looking for improvement.
“We were a little panicky with the ball today,” Clark said. “We weren’t as accurate as we normally are or as we could be.”
But for the time being, the Bears can appreciate the early success of autumn and ride into a spring season knowing that however good they are now — and that may be very good — they can be even better in the future.
“We aspire to not only play winning rugby but attractive rugby as well. I think we could have done a better job of that,” Clark said. “But at the end of the day, we won, and you can’t let good be the enemy of great.”
Contact Austin Isaacsohn at [email protected].