Dominance is a concept that many Cal sports fans are all but accustomed to. This is not the case with Cal men’s rugby, a well-accomplished program that has won seven of the last eight PAC Rugby 7s Championships.
Established in 1882, rugby is Cal Athletics’ oldest intercollegiate sport and certainly among its most successful. Earlier this month, the program celebrated Mike MacDonald, its 17th alumnus to be inducted into the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame.
Led by head coach Jack Clark and his near-flawless 184-22-0 (.893) record in 7s, the Bears were poised to see their first action in more than a year. Clark, 24-time national 15s champion and five-time national 7s champion, had the task of getting the program back on track after an off-year due to COVID-19.
The Bears secured 73% of their championship-winning roster from 2019 and had more than half of their 60-player roster made up of experienced upperclassmen. As such, the program did not skip a beat in continuing the winning culture that it is known for — going undefeated before the playoffs and securing the No. 1 seed. The Bears were set to host the PAC Rugby 7s Championship from Nov. 6 to Nov. 7.
As the first seed, Cal hosted an eight-team tournament on the first day of Witter Rugby Field opening in more than 600 days. In doing so, Cal faced USC, Utah and Oregon in knockout rounds for a chance to qualify for the semifinals on the second day.
Cal bested all three of its opponents by significant margins. Its three victories featured eerily similar winning formulas –– that is, Cal did not allow a single point during the second half in any of the three matchups. Cal ended with 17-7 against Oregon, 10-5 against USC and 12-5 against Utah, all of which were relatively manageable deficits to climb back from. Needless to say, Cal’s second-half defense ensured a blowout victory rather than a comeback in all three matchups.
Upon winning the knockout rounds, Cal squared off against Arizona on the second day for semifinals, a matchup that the blue and gold handily won by a score of 27-5. Notably, the Bears, once again, did not allow their opponent to score a point in the second half, outshooting the Wildcats 12-0 in the second half. In beating Arizona, Cal advanced to finals duel with in-state rival UCLA.
In line with the rest of their playoff victories, the Bears had a masterful defensive performance, pitching a shutout to beat UCLA and seize their eighth PAC Rugby 7s Championship in the past nine years. The Bears won by a score of 10-0, beating a quality opponent in the Bruins that they were previously only able to edge out by seven points. Ten points was the Bears’ lowest offensive total in the season, but their defensive performance more than made up for it.
Throughout the tournament, 12 different Bears combined for 24 tries, showcasing their commitment to the team effort. Junior standout Max Schumacher led the Bears with six tries, four of which came in his dominant performance against Oregon.
In two short days, Cal rugby bested its five opponents by an average margin of 22.4 and only gave up 22 total points to all five teams to ultimately win the title. To call this performance a defensive masterpiece is underselling it. After a year off, this poetically capped off an undefeated season with a top-seed berth for the prestigious program.
The Bears will now look forward to the spring XVs season in January, where they will look to continue their reign of dominance.