The University of California finally logged a couple of 7s tournament victories this fall, but this one was important.
Before the season Head Coach Jack Clark was quick to remind reporters that the Bears needed to win a tournament before they started thinking about a national title. And then before this tournament the Cal coaching staff told the players something more.
“They told us how we have an opportunity to do something no Cal team has ever done in the history of the program,” said Cal freshman flyhalf Russell Webb. “And that’s to possibly win a national championship in 7s. We’re proud to have qualified for the chance to do that.”
It wasn’t easy. Cal lost to Arizona State 19-17 in pool play on Saturday, and really had to work to push aside a tough UCLA team in the semis.
In the final, they had to get over another hurdle, Utah, a team that had beaten them in the 2010 and 2011 USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship.
“We were definitely conscious of the fact that we’d never beaten Utah in 7s before,” said Cal captain Seamus Kelly. “They have some excellent players. But we learned a lot from that Arizona State game. I think it refocused us and we responded well in the final.”
The key, said Kelly, was to take care of the ball.
“We needed to make sure we presented the ball well every time,” said Kelly. “We had to have good solid rucks.”
“What the Arizona State game taught us was that in any 7s game, if you’re not in it 100 percent mentally and physically, you can lose,” added Webb. “One mistake can change a game. So against Utah we knew we had to e 100 percent focused. We had to support each other. If you make a pass, you have about a second to get to the ruck.”
Kelly got Cal going with his third-minute try, and senior Anthony Lombardo ended the Bears' next scoring sequence that, with Webb’s conversions, made it 14-0 at intermission.
Utah still had hopes of drawing the Bears into a more chaotic style in the second frame but Cal did not take the bait. Sophomore Nicklas Boyer kept it going for Cal with his try two minutes into the second half and although the Utes were making their mark with tough tackles by players like gridiron crossover John Cullen, the clock kept ticking on Utah's chance to mount a comeback.
Cal held on 21-12.
Kelly was one of those try-scorers, but he made mention of senior Andre Coquillard and sophomore and Junior All American Boyer.
“Both had to step up because of injuries and they did a great job,” said Kelly. “We’re all getting better at following the pattern and our systems. Now we’re in a position to do something that no Cal team has done in 130 years of the program. We’re excited.”