SAN FRANCISCO - Flyhalf Alex Aronson kicked the game-winning conversion following No. 8 Danny Barrett's try in the 74th minute as California came back from a six-point deficit to beat British Columbia, 13-12, Saturday on Ray Sheeran Field at the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club on Treasure Island.
The Golden Bears (10-0) will take their one-point advantage into the rematch with UBC on March 25 in Vancouver, Canada, and attempt to win the "World Cup" series, which is decided by total points scored in the annual, two-match competition.
Thunderbirds scrumhalf Carlin Hamstra connected on 4-of-6 penalty attempts to score all of UBC's points. UBC flyhalf Harry Jones failed to make a 30-meter drop kick in the 68th minute.
Aronson, who also made 2-of-3 penalty-kick attempts for eight points scored, lined up the go-ahead conversion and kicked it through the posts from a few meters off the touch line in front of an appreciative crowd.
"I just wanted to go through my routine, trust it and strike it true," said Aronson.
Eight of Cal's starters, which included four sophomores, had never before faced UBC, and the Bears made it tough on themselves with uncharacteristic errors to give British Columbia ample opportunities to capitalize.
Hamstra missed his first penalty attempt off the left post from 40 meters in the sixth minute and Aronson gave Cal the lead five minutes later with his 22-meter penalty boot. The senior flyhalf connected again from the 22 before Hamstra converted his second penalty attempt to trim Cal's lead to 6-3. Hamstra's second three-pointer tied the score at 6-6 going into the break.
Cal was able to initiate several line breaks but could not finish them with tries. Brad Harrington had one of those breaks inside the 22, which did not result in any points for the Bears. Following that sequence, Hamstra's third penalty kick gave UBC a 9-6 lead in the 56th minute.
After UBC flyhalf and Canadian international Harry Jones missed his drop kick from 30 meters, Cal's 22-drop went directly out, giving the T-Birds a scrum in scoring territory. The Bears were quickly whistled for an infraction and Hamstra upped the UBC lead to 12-6.
But as Cal pressured UBC deep its own end after the ensuing kickoff, the T-Birds failed to put their clearance kick into touch. Instead, fullback Jake Anderson fielded it at midfield and made defenders miss as he put the Bears into scoring position. Two phases later, Barrett scored the first and only try by either team on the day, and Aronson sealed it with his conversion.
Coach Clark praised Barrett's resolve to find the try zone for the Bears.
"When Danny is determined like he was today, he's the best player in collegiate rugby," he said.
For the second straight year during the Rugby Bears' inability to host home matches at Witter Rugby Field, proceeds from Saturday's "World Cup" opener were directed to benefit high-school and youth rugby. And for the second straight year, Cal come back to beat the T-Birds on Treasure Island.
"They really come to play," said Barrett of the Thunderbirds. He called his score "a team try to get it down to the goal line. We put ourselves in a tough situation and were happy to dig ourselves out."
"Errors aside, I am really proud of the work the boys put in today," coach Clark said. "It would have been easy to fold in the final stages trailing a good team like the Birds."
"Both defenses seemed to stand up when it got close to the goal line," said UBC head coach Spence McTavish. "The turning point was probably that high ball that we put up and their fullback got it," McTavish said of UBC's failed clearance kick in the waning minutes that Anderson returned into scoring range. "That set everything scrambling."
The one-point win for the Bears is their slimmest margin of victory during their current, 63-match winning streak in 15s.
"We are a fair ways from being the team we want to be but today was a couple of steps in the right direction," said Clark.
The Scoring Timeline vs. British Columbia:
11:00 Alex Aronson 3
18:00 Alex Aronson 3
23:00 UBC (Carlin Hamstra) 3
37:00 UBC (Carlin Hamstra) 3
Halftime: California 6, British Columbia 6
56:00 UBC (Carlin Hamstra) 3
70:00 UBC (Carlin Hamstra) 3
74:00 Danny Barrett 5, Alex Aronson 2
Final Score: California 13, British Columbia 12