In the trend toward playing college rugby in conferences regular sports fans have heard of, the coalescing of the colleges from the PAC-12 is one of the most obvious and noticeable.
The PAC teams will play a 15s season once again, and this weekend, will play a much-anticipated 7s tournament.
UCLA comes in as one of the favorites, having out-done St. Mary’s and Cal in the West Coast 7s. The Bruins fell to the Bowl Round in the Battle in the Bay this past weekend, but it was a much younger UCLA team that Head Coach Scott Stewart took to San Francisco.
The good thing is, they won three on the trot on Sunday to take the Bowl, and in fact lost only one match all weekend, 21-14 to eventual Plate winners Cal Poly.
“The guys learned a lot,” said Stewart after the event. “What was really great is that at practice afterward, the younger guys were really getting in the face of the older guys. They came back with a lot of confidence.”
So it’s a somewhat deeper UCLA team that throws its door open to the rest of the conference this weekend.
Arizona State had their moments in at the BIB, and almost beating Central Washington (a game the Wildcats eventually won 33-28) was one of them. Having already tied UCLA in a 7s match, the Sun Devils could certainly be a contender.
Cal comes in ready to win it. Having tested a number of players at BIB, the Bears are looking at this tournament as the culmination of their fall – they will not attend nationals.
“Advancing from the pool to the semis won’t be easy,” said Cal head Coach Jack Clark. “We’ve seen ASU and they have a fine team. Colorado and Washington should provide a stiff challenge as well. All our focus needs to be on day one or day two we’ll be watching the cup championship”
Jake Anderson captains Cal and has done a solid job keeping the team on point – they were 5-1 at the BIB, losing to St. Mary’s 21-17 in the semis and carrying the best points difference on the weekend – but they have other talent, also. Among them is Jesse Milne, a solid block of a center who can break tackles and has a god turn of pace. Russell Webb is a key performer at flyhalf, and in fact the entire Cal team is fit, physical strong, and, for the most part, big.
Washington has been touted by many to be a team on the rise, while Arizona is one with all kinds of questions as they have had to say goodbye to their head coach (Dave Sitton passed away suddenly in August) and several of their top players.
Stanford and USC are struggling to find their place at the moment, while Oregon is a bit of a wild card. Perhaps even more of a wild card is Oregon State, which made the final of the Northwest Collegiate tournament only to be defeated soundly by Central Washington.
OSU has some strong defenders and a good team approach, but it begins and ends with USA hopeful Pono Haitsuka. Anyone who saw him slice and dice the Western Washington defense to make that final will know what he can do; the Beavers need him.
Absent from this tournament are two teams on short-term suspension. Utah and Washington State are not playing 7s due to disciplinary action. They will be back for 15s action, although WSU plays in the NCRC, not the PAC Conference.
PAC 7s Pools:
Cal, Washington, Colorado, Arizona State
UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon