Cal rugby began its annual rampage through its fall 7s season by splitting into two squads for the West Coast 7s in San Luis Obispo this weekend. The question was not whether the two teams would make it through their respective sides of the bracket, but what would happen when they met. Perhaps Cal head coach Jack Clark did too good of a job dividing his team equally, because the 21-21 tie was an appropriate, if anticlimactic ending to the Bears season debut.
The two teams, split into “Bears” and “Cal,” got off to very different starts to the tournament. Cal blew through Fresno State 43-7 on the strength of three tries from freshman scrumhalf Marcus Shankland. It’s unsurprising to see Shankland playing an important role right away, as his pedigree as a captain at famed English boarding school Eton all but ensured the fact.
“I thought (Shankland) was one of the guys that played very well,” Clark said. “I thought he was among our best performers on the weekend.”
Senior Will Fuller took the lead in Cal’s second win over Cal Poly with two tries, but Shankland added one as well, with junior Elliot Webb contributing three conversions and a try. Fuller then proved to be the deciding factor in Cal’s semifinals win over Grand Canyon University. Cal held a narrow 12-10 win at the half (which are a scant seven minutes), and Fuller’s two scores helped the final 24-17 separation.
The Bears half, on the other hand, was down at halftime of their first match against USC. Senior wing Zachery Tavenner gave the Bears an initial 7-0 lead, but the Trojans soared to 19-7 lead by the seven-minute mark. The defense, however, stepped up at the half, and another Tavenner started a second half run that eventually gave the Bears the win.
“Take nothing away from (USC) because we were chasing that game well into the second half, so give that team some credit,” Clark said. “We made mistakes, we missed some tackles and turned over the ball. It took us a while to get settled into what competition looks like.”
UC Davis and San Diego State gave the Bears less of a fight, yielding 28-5 and 31-7 respectively. Senior flyhalf Matthew Coyle scored two goals against the Aztecs in the latter match, and his performance will be crucial for a program needing to replace the production of Russell Webb, who operated the Cal offense for the past two seasons.
“(Coyle) was probably the best player on the day for us,” Clark said. “He can play center as well, so it’s not flyhalf or to the bench. … I thought he did very well. He’s a very calm athlete and he gets himself in a very good competition zone.”
The final intra-program match featured just three upperclassmen, and it took two late scores from the Bears squad, along with two clutch conversion kicks from freshman Desi Streater, to end up with the fateful tie.
“I was very pleased to see both teams advance through their pools and semifinals,” Clark said. “We got a lot of good intel on our team. We have a lot to work on, but we know more about ourselves now.”
The final outcomes were never in doubt, but the lasting mark of the tournament will be how it ultimately helps Clark determine the teams’ pecking orders. As the fall season goes along, the consistently loaded Bears will continue doing battle with each other, in practice if not real competitions.