Cal rugby set to host national quarterfinal against conference rival Arizona

Rugby player runs with ball in his arms as other players run behind him.
Joshua Jordan /File

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After defeating UC Davis for the second time this season in the round of 16, behind four tries by sophomore lock Sam Golla, Cal rugby will again play in a rematch this Saturday at 1 p.m. — this time against Arizona, who finished second in the PAC division.

“Clearly, there is some familiarity,” said head coach Jack Clark. “But I’m sure both teams will play against tendencies as not to be overly predictable.”

As the top-ranked team in the nation, Cal cruised to a 141-3 victory against UC Davis and will again be the favorite against Arizona — the team the Bears defeated, 55-13, in their March 23 match in Berkeley. The wing pair of junior Sam Cusano and sophomore Marcus Shankland led the way that day with two tries apiece in their toughest conference match, as Arizona was the only PAC team to score a try against Cal.

Like last time, the Bears will host the Wildcats since Witter Rugby Field was designated as a quarterfinal location.

“Hosting is sometimes more work,” Clark said before the UC Davis match. “But it might be a small advantage.”

Arizona finished the regular season ranked 10th nationally. After losing to Cal in March, the Wildcats closed out the regular season with a 41-10 victory at Utah and a 28-19 home playoff victory against Central Washington to come into the quarterfinals with an overall 7-2 record.

In the D1-A playoffs, the Bears rank as the first seed in the West region, and the Wildcats rank as the fourth.

“At this point, the rankings are meaningless,” Clark said. “We’re in a single-elimination tournament — we win and we advance.”

The winner of this match will advance to the national semifinals April 27, which will be played at Saint Mary’s Stadium in Moraga, California. Since Saint Mary’s qualified for the quarterfinals as well, the Gaels will have an opportunity to host next round.

St. Mary’s will play Brigham Young at Witter Rugby Field immediately after the Cal-Arizona match. If both St. Mary’s and Cal advance, it would be the Bears’ third straight rematch in the playoffs. Cal defeated St. Mary’s 29-19 when the teams matched up March 30 in Strawberry Canyon, as the Bears replaced the Gaels as the top-ranked team in the national rankings. The potential rematch in the semifinals, however, would be in Moraga, setting up an interesting match for the Bears. When the teams played at St. Mary’s in 2018, Cal fell 21-12 in what was the final regular season match.

Cal advanced to the national championship last year, where they lost to Life University. With two more wins, the Bears have an opportunity to match this feat and potentially win Clark his 25th rugby 15s championship for the school in his 36th year of coaching.

“At the end of the day, playing to strengths is the key,” Clark said. “When we execute well, we’re good.”

 

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