No. 3 Cal rugby heads to Philadelphia for 7s

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This weekend, Cal turns the page to its final chapter of the rugby season and will take part in the Penn Mutual CRC 7s in Philadelphia at Talen Energy Stadium. In rugby 7s, Cal shifts back to the olympic style of play that features a faster pace, more space and a roster that is catered to these central differences from the traditional rugby 15s.

The Bears’ roster at this weekend’s CRC 7s will include a blend of the team’s experienced upperclassmen and emerging underclassmen. The 12-man roster will include seasoned fifth-years in flyhalf Russell Webb and centers Anthony Salaber and Patrick Barrientes, as well as senior props Connor Sweet and Drew Gaffney.

The travel squad will also include juniors hooker/wing Jake Goena, scrumhalf Zac Tavenner, center Aidan Flynn and wing Will Fuller. In addition, sophomore Nic Mirhashem and freshmen Sam Cusano and Christian Dyer were chosen to compete at this weekend’s matches.

Cal will begin the weekend with pool play on Saturday against the likes of Clemson, Penn State and Delaware in pool E. In total, the Penn Mutual CRC 7s has six pools with four teams in each pool. On Sunday, the CRC 7s will shift to knockout rounds with the remaining teams vying for a shot at the prized championship.

Cal went 14-1 in fall 7s play with a roster featuring a similar blend of vets and underclassmen. In the fall, the Bears defeated Saint Mary’s 38-5 in the Central Coast West Coast Collegiate Final and also beat Arizona State 47-14 at the PAC Rugby 7s final en route to another conference championship.

The key veteran contributors during this fall run included the likes of Webb, Salaber and Barrientes as well as senior Thomas Robles, who was injured early on in the 15s season. Webb was the engine that made the Bears go throughout the fall 7s season and his wealth of experience and leadership will surely be called upon this weekend.

Additionally, many young players were key contributors for Cal in 7s play. Among them were Mirhashem, Cusano and Dyer. This trio showed promise throughout fall play and will be pivotal pieces for the Bears in this weekend’s action.

Cusano has been a strong contributor for the Bears all season long and possesses a skillset of speed, agility and elusiveness that is very advantageous in rugby 7s. His abilities in 7s were on display during the fall as he scored three tries for the Bears in their PAC 7s championship win versus the Sun Devils in November.

Heading into this weekend’s slate of games, the Bears will need a collective team effort from their veterans and young players in order to capture another national championship. The pairing of Webb and Cusano could prove to be lethal for Cal’s opponents, who will look to slow down the duos playmaking in the open field.

The Bears will be aiming to repeat as rugby 7s national champs during this weekend’s slate of games. It will take a collective team effort from Cal’s old guard and young guns to deliver this prize back to Berkeley.

Ryan Groves covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].