Cal rugby is downed by UBC as Bears drop 1st game of season

A rugby player runs with the ball as another attempts to tackle him.
Karen Chow /File

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A hat trick by junior Owain Ruttan led the University of British Columbia, or UBC, to a 28-24 victory over Cal rugby Sunday, avenging a 24-22 loss to the Bears on Feb. 23 in Berkeley.

The win clinched a UBC victory in the annual “World Cup” series between the two teams, which dates back to 1921, after entering the match trailing by 2 points in the aggregate score.

UBC (15-4, 10-3 BC Premier), the reigning champion of the BC Premier rugby league, opened up the scoring eight minutes into the match on fifth-year senior Cole Keffer’s try. Cal (9-1, 1-0 Pac-12) responded as junior flanker Sid Holland scored an unconverted try to tie the match at 5-5.

The Thunderbirds was able to take a 12-5 lead at halftime, as Ruttan scored a try in the 31st minute, followed by junior Adam McQueen’s conversion kick.

UBC would not relinquish that lead in the second half, started by Ruttan’s second try of the match in the 41st minute, giving the Thunderbirds a commanding 17-5 advantage.

The Bears responded with flanker Jason Severance’s try, as the freshman ran through the UBC defense for 30 meters just two minutes after Ruttan’s score, cutting the lead down to 7. After McQueen extended the Thunderbirds’ lead to 20-10 with his penalty kick, the Bears’ junior scrumhalf Keanu Andrade scored a try, and freshman flyhalf Sam Walsh kicked in the conversion to pull within 3 points, as Cal trailed 20-17.

But Ruttan, who took home man of the match honors, would frustrate the Bears yet again, as he completed a hat trick two minutes after Andrade’s score, giving the Thunderbirds a 25-17 advantage with 12 minutes remaining.

Cal, which at this point was playing five freshmen after substitutions, did not halt its comeback attempt, as junior scrumhalf Ken Kurihara scored a late try in the 73rd minute. Walsh again converted to bring the Bears to within 1 point.

Although Cal kept its comeback efforts until the final whistle, McQueen effectively sealed the UBC victory with a penalty kick in the 75th minute, as the Thunderbirds played rugged defense in the last five minutes to prevent the Bears from stealing the game on a late try.

Both teams scored four tries in the match, but similarly to the teams’ last two matchups in Berkeley, both close victories for Cal, conversions and goal kicks were the deciding factors in victory. McQueen went two for two in penalty attempts and converted a try to give UBC the 4-point edge, while the Bears missed two conversions that would be needed to tie the game. Last weekend, Cal converted all of its tries, while UBC converted one of four — just like this time.

Additionally, Cal started seven underclassmen in the match, opting to focus on player development and rely more on the younger members of the squad.

The Bears will look to bounce back in their match against UCLA (3-2, 2-2 Pac-12) in Westwood as they continue with conference play.

Kunal Dutta cover’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].