Do you get deja vu?. Following an all-time classic against St. Mary’s last weekend, Cal rugby advanced to the semifinals of the D1A National Collegiate Rugby Championship. Meeting the Bears are the Cougars of BYU. Saturday’s matchup will be the second semifinal opportunity in two years for Cal, with the Bears giving up a berth for the 2022 championship to St. Mary’s.
In their last matchup against the Cougars, the blue and gold traveled to a frozen Provo, Utah, in reduced numbers to wrap up the regular season. With the postseason seeding already decided by kickoff, the Bears opted to put a reserve unit on the field. The less experienced unit representing Cal in Provo fell 50-14.
There is no telling how that regular-season matchup would have gone if postseason seeding was on the line and Cal head coach Jack Clark sent out his best unit to compete. But, with championship aspirations on the line, Cal rugby’s best XV will make the start.
Thanks to fourth-seeded BYU winning over the top seed in the west, Central Washington, the No. 3 Bears now get to host yet another playoff match. The change in scenery will prove an important factor come Saturday, as Provo’s weather remains rainy while the Bears will be able to play comfortably at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley.
Despite these advantages for the Bears this time around, fans should be sure not to discount the Cougars’ chances. In its first semifinal appearance since 2017, BYU is getting hot at the right time. In their quarterfinal match against the supposedly higher-seeded Central Washington, the Cougars far exceeded expectations, doubling up on CWU, 62-31. The BYU attack has grown more potent by the week and will prove a big challenge to a Cal defense that stepped up when it mattered most against St. Mary’s last week.
The remaining two teams in D1A’s final four were also decided last weekend. The top seed in the East, Navy, dismantled its service-academy rival Army to the tune of 30-6. Keeping the Cadets out of pay dirt in a playoff game is perhaps the most impressive feat of any team this postseason. Facing Navy for the right to play in the championship game is Lindenwood. After an equally convincing win over Life, 29-8, Lindenwood comes into its game against Navy with a full head of steam. Despite the momentum, a lot needs to happen before Navy is dethroned in the East. Fans should expect the Midshipmen to be waiting at the D1A Championship in Houston.
Back in the Bay, Cal’s victory against St. Mary’s was certainly a triumph. A one-point win against an archrival in the postseason adds to the excitement and momentum surrounding the Bears at this point in the season. And with the weight of their rival off the Bears’ shoulders, more vengeance is in order. This postseason run is a far cry from the three-game losing streak to end the regular season, and a win against the Cougars would rectify one of those losses and set up a potential matchup against Navy, the only other team that beat the Bears this season — this time for all the marbles.
The path to a championship is a perilous one, and the blue and gold’s loss last year likely sits in the forefront of the minds of the Cal faithful. This year, the road to the championship game runs through Berkeley. Will the Bears be gatekeepers on their way to a championship berth or find themselves once again turned away at the doorstep?
Cal kicks off against BYU on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley or on live stream on the Pac-12’s website.