by Brett Anker
Cal and BYU will square off in the final of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup on Saturday at South Field on the Campus of BYU. The game will be aired live on the NBCSN at 4PM EST.
BYU and Cal have been the gold standard of collegiate rugby for several decades. The Cougars and the Bears had met in the post season twelve times before this encounter with 10 coming in national title bouts. The Bears have gotten the better of BYU historically, but the recent years have gone the way of the Cougar.
The Cougars and the Golden Bears have met in the finals of first three Varsity Cups with BYU slaying the Bears in all three contests. In the inaugural Varsity Cup, Cal battled back from a two score deficit only to lose to a drop goal from then freshman Johnny Linehan. Two years ago the Cougars dropped the Bears 43-33 and last year they edged the California school 30-27 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The teams have faced a number of common opponents including, Army, Central Washington, Utah, Air Force, St. Mary’s and Arizona State. Both teams went undefeated against the common opponents but BYU had far more convincing victories against a number of them.
Cal understands the challenge ahead of them. It will be more difficult this year as the game returns to the BYU campus. The Cougars have never lost a game at South Field. With a talented and mature team, BYU will be the stiffest challenge of the year for Cal.
I imagine we will see a similar lineup to the one they used in the semi,” Clark said of BYU. “It is a very experienced team, well beyond normal university age. They will field a half-dozen or more players who graduated high school in 2009, a few more 2010 grads and at least one player who is a 2008 high school graduate. It is nothing new to us or any of the other teams in the competition. It is what comes with playing BYU.”
Cal will be without fullback Harry Adolphus, who was lost to injury in the quarterfinal matchup with Army. However, the Golden Bears have a lot of depth and with a strong pack, led by Scott Walsh and George Vrame up front, have the size and athleticism to match up with a strong BYU pack.
After winning the last three Varsity Cups, BYU is gunning for another victory. The Cougars have been firing on all cylinders and may have the best team they have had in years.
“This team this year is probably the most cohesive team we have had for as long as I have been here,” said assistant coach Wayne Tarawhiti. “The guys are just enjoying their rugby, enjoying each other’s company and having a lot of fun.”
The Cougars will look to continue their unbeaten streak that dates back to the spring of 2014. Playing at front of a home crowd adds a little excitement and motivation for the Utah school.
“It is a privilege to have it on campus. The crowd we have had for the last six years playing there has been our 16th man. They come out and support us and we are blessed to have it back home. We see it as a nice to have but never a guarantee,” Tarawhiti said of the home field advantage.
Despite playing at home, BYU is well aware of the rich tradition and history of Cal. The Cougars have spent the last two weeks gearing up for their toughest game of the year.
“We always have a genuine mutual respect for Cal. Those guys have been the benchmark of rugby for a number of years. We always look forward to playing them. We tend to play our best rugby when we play against them and are looking forward to that challenge again,” Tarawhiti added.