Split squads face minimal resistance in Cal rugby’s opening tournament

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Senior flyhalf/fullback Elliot Webb picks up the ball and sprints past the opposing Arizona Wildcat defense. Webb makes a toss to senior flanker Nic Mirhashem just in time for the recipient to put the ball down for a try in his first match as a captain.

“I was just at the right place at the right time,” Mirhashem said. “Elliott Webb picked the ball and gave it to me just to put it down.”

The result of the match was Cal 29, Arizona 0 — one of six matches that the Bears dominated this weekend at the West Coast Collegiate 7s event in San Luis Obispo. The showdown between the Bears and Wildcats was a rematch of the 2017 PAC 7s Championship final; this year’s match featured Cal besting Arizona in the semifinal of the event in San Luis Obispo.

“It is really good getting back out there against a really good team and a really good rival,” Mirhashem said. “Obviously, we kind of had a chip on our shoulder coming off last year’s game, so there was something special about that.”

The 2018 West Coast Collegiate 7s final was a repeat of last year — featuring two squads in blue and gold. “Cal” and “Bears” — a predetermined split of the Cal rugby roster — squared off against each other, as the upperclassmen went on to defeat the underclassmen squad, 33-14.

Head coach Jack Clark divided minutes evenly among his players throughout the tournament as the Bears finished the weekend with a 6-0 record between the two squads, not including their head-to-head finale.

In six games, the two teams scored a total of 33 tries while surrendering just five. The even spread of playing time was also reflected on the scoreboard, as 21 different players scored at least one try Saturday, with eight players getting on the board at least twice each.

21 of the 33 tries were followed by conversions, which translates to an impressive 63.6 percent execution rate. The Bears occasionally had trouble during 15-on-15 play last spring on conversions.

The more experienced Cal squad featuring upperclassmen finished the pool play with a 50-5 win over UC Santa Cruz, followed by a 24-12 triumph over host team Cal Poly. On the flip side, the younger Bears squad cruised through Pool C with a 59-0 shutout against Fresno State and a 31-5 win over UC Davis.

“To be honest, we are very proud and excited that a lot of them showed up and showed a lot of creative passion and a lot of skills,” Mirhashem said about the freshmen on the team. “It was great to have them get some minutes and to sort of get into the flow of things, how we operate as a team.”

Later in the day on Saturday, the underclassmen defeated a tough UCLA side in a low-scoring clash, 14-5, to join the Cal upperclassmen in the final.

“It’s really good to be back out there,” Mirhashem said. “At the end of the day, it was the first tournament and a good head start, but after that we just need to get back to work.”

Clark will have one more opportunity to mix and match the squad in West Coast 7s at Treasure Island in two weeks. The team will host the PAC 7s tournament on Nov. 11 at Witter Rugby Field.

Can Sariöz covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cal will host the West Coast 7s event from Oct. 20-21 at Witter Field. In fact, the event will be held at Ray Sheeran Field on Treasure Island and will not be hosted by Cal.