BERKELEY, Calif. – California confirmed this week its intention to participate in the USA Rugby College 7s Championships held in College Station, Texas, Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Head coach Jack Clark verified the program has accepted the opportunity to play in the USAR event following an evaluation of academic and financial factors.
“The dates appear workable from an academic calendar standpoint,” coach Clark said. “We wouldn’t consider the tournament if there were academic conflicts.” Classes at the University of California end on Nov. 30 and the interim before semester finals, called reading/recitation/review week, begins Dec. 3.
Budgetary concerns remain just that – concerns – but Clark said he remains optimistic that Cal can manage the expense.
“We are sorting through the logistics,” he said. “As most know, it’s expensive to participate in USAR events. All the cost is shouldered by the teams and it’s not really an investment in the same way we considered our participation expense in the PAC Sevens to be.”
The Golden Bears are ranked #2 nationally with a 22-3 record, having won three tournaments and reached the semifinals in the fourth event it entered this fall, including their most recent title at the PAC Sevens.
Whereas the USAR College 7s Championships has seen qualifiers such as Virginia Tech decline the opportunity to participate in an event that had some wrinkles to iron out last year, the PAC Sevens enjoyed 100 percent participation from all the universities in the Pac-12 Conference over a two-day event hosted seamlessly by UCLA.
“We can’t be appreciative enough about UCLA’s hosting of the event. It was really fantastic,” Clark said. “In my conversations with the other coaches, there was significant pride in our PAC rugby. The performance standard was good and the teams really made an effort to put their best foot forward.”
Clark called the PAC Sevens championship “a pretty well packaged event and the teams deserve much of the credit. From a performance standpoint, not only were teams striving for first place, they were battling for 7th vs. 8th place and so on.”
While the PAC Sevens offered automatic qualification to the USAR 7s Championships, Clark said that teams did not appear to make that their goal: “I don’t think it was ever mentioned. I didn’t hear any of the coaches referring to the USAR event as the prize. The PAC championship seemed to the focus of the teams. It certainly was our focus – the PAC Sevens was the goal.”
Having made the best possible result at the PAC Sevens a goal unto itself, Clark acknowledged there is still more 7s rugby to play this fall. “We want to keep playing and the only 7s event left on the schedule is the Texas A&M event,” he said. “It gives us a chance to keep working on our 7s against a great field of teams. Because our focus will switch to 15s in early January, Texas A&M will be our last chance to play 7s before the Collegiate Rugby Championship in June, pending an invitation.”
With a season winning percentage of .880 that keeps the team trending upward on an all-time 7s record of 35-9 (.795), Cal continues to improve as a 7s program. But the parity of the final four teams at the PAC Sevens was just the latest reminder that the Bears are certainly not supreme in the national conversation.
“We were far from dominant in winning the tournament,” Clark said of the PAC Sevens. “This is partly the result of the competition. Other than the CRC, this was the best field of teams, top to bottom, that we’ve faced. We played solid 7s mostly, only performing poorly in spots, mainly because the competition was intense. At other times our miscues were more self-imposed.”
Though far from alone, Cal has also battled the injury bug this season, which has a flip side in opportunities that have opened deeper down the depth chart.
“Our injury list is offering playing time to many of the youngest parts of our roster,” Clark commented. “The majority of our team in L.A. were underclassmen. Our performance level isn’t going to be perfect in this case. We’re five or six veteran players away from being at our best.”
Taking those factors into account, Clark offered an overall assessment: “I have been impressed with the team’s sporting resilience. They do indeed keep battling. I’m really proud of them. We realize we’re not great, but we’re not that bad either, and we’re a tough out in these 7s tournaments.”