With their 15s season now over, the Cal Bears will turn their attention to 7s with the USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship set for June 2-3 at PPL Park just outside Philadelphia.
Cal has been both previous CRC tournaments, winning eight games and losing twice, both times to Utah – in the final in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2011.
Head Coach Jack Clark is shooting for an improved performance this time, and while it could be argued his Bears squad will lack some of the marquee players of 2011, they will have significantly more preparation time.
“Our two 7s experiences have been very different,” Clark told RUGBYMag.com. “In one instance we came off a national championship in the 1st weekend in May and we had a little bit of time to kind of get some 7s in us and rest up, and I thought we did pretty well. I was pretty happy with . We scored at the end of regulation to have a chance to win and then lost in overtime against a really good team. So nothing to be disappointed at, really.
“But in Philadelphia, I kind of knew it was going to be hard. We put so much into last season, battling through that relegation thing took it out of us.”
That relegation thing was when the University of California rescinded Cal’s varsity status, only to give it back later on, under some conditions (Cal rugby had to fund two women’s sports).
In addition, the new (then-named) College Premier Division season went three weeks longer than usual, leaving Cal two weeks to get ready for 7s.
“We had the long season, all that other stuff, we were without a home field, and without a training field – we went through it all in one year,” Clark explained. “I knew when we convened for 7s we would have a tough time. On that first day, we won our games, but we weren’t very good. We just didn’t have anything left in the tank. Utah were a good team. Losing is always disappointing but I was understanding of the players I realized how much we had asked of them.”
This year, Cal pulled out of D1-A, in part because the schedule “didn’t agree with us academically.” They are done with 15s as of April 15, giving the players time to worry about finals, and Clark and Tom Billups to see who they have on their 7s squad. Injured Danny Barrett could be back, and Seamus Kelly will anchor a very strong Cal side that will have had six weeks to prepare for Philadelphia.
“The CRC has turned into a date we’ve got circled on our calendar; it’s a really exciting event to be a part of,” said Clark. “We have some guys in mind for the team but maybe there’s some competition for other spots, and we look forward to that. We’d like the other guys to keep playing, and while some will have an internship or will need to go home, we’ll keep as many guys as we can.”
Cal played in the California 7s last fall and lost three games. Clark said the team he put out was young, and while it ended up winning the Challenger Bracket, the losses we tough.
“We were kind of level on tries in that tournament, but you can’t throw out the fact that we got beat,” he said. “Overall we were really happy for that experience. It was important for us as a team; you’ve got to have those big experiences at a point.”
Looking ahead, Cal will be creating a 7s-specific plan for their team from now on. The last two years 7s has been kind of squeezed into the season. Not now. He is recruiting players with an eye toward which incoming freshmen will pan out as 7s athletes. Cal will enter several tournaments in the fall, and Clark said he’d like to host one once Witter Field becomes available again following the completion of the Cal football stadium renovation.
“This coming year will be our first year when we can really begin some 7s specific coaching, bring some 7s science in and some 7s-oriented fitness,” explained Clark. “Before you start shooting for a national championship, we have to think on how we get to a place where we can compete.”
Something tells us they will be competing just fine in June.