BERKELEY – Renewing one of collegiate sport’s greatest rivalries California faces Brigham Young in the Varsity Cup National Championship final Saturday, May 4, at 1 p.m. MT on South Field in Provo, Utah, the home stadium of the Cougars. Advance tickets are available at BYUtickets.com with a live webcast of the championship at YouTube.com/VarsityCupRugby (12 p.m. PT).
In their histories, the Golden Bears (21-0, 5-0 PAC) and Cougars (11-2) have met 10 times, nine of those in the postseason. The only regular-season matchup was in 2001, a 33-22 win for Cal on Witter Rugby Field.
In 1981, Cal beat the Cougars, 6-3, in the Pacific Coast Championships final, with the winning points coming on a 55-meter penalty kick from Mick Luckhurst in the second half, and the Bears repeated the feat in 1983 with a 44-6 win over BYU on campus in Provo. Both of those matches sent the Bears to the national final four, where Cal won national championships on both occasions, edging Harvard 6-3 in overtime at the ’81 final in Dayton, Ohio, for their second title and beating Air Force 13-3 at the ’83 national collegiate championship in Athens, Ga., for their fourth. Cal defeated BYU again the following year, winning 15-10 in the first round of the Pacific Coast Championships before losing to eventual Pacific Coast champion Long Beach State.
After the Cougars fell to Cal Poly in the 2004 national quarterfinals, Cal went on to beat the Mustangs for national championship number 20. Brigham Young lost to Utah in the 2005 national semis and saw Cal claim the national title over the Utes, 44-7, for national title number 21. The Cougars were defeated by the Bears in the 2006 (29-26), ’07 (37-7) and ’08 (59-7) national collegiate championships before BYU got over the hump against the Bears with a three-point win in the 2009 title match, but Cal reclaimed the national collegiate crown with wins over BYU in 2010 (19-7, with the 2006-10 finals all hosted by Stanford) and ’11 (21-14) in Salt Lake City.
This year, the final takes place on BYU’s home pitch since 2009, South Field Stadium, where the Cougars have never lost a match against collegiate competition.
Cal advanced to this year’s consensus national collegiate championship with a 74-6 win over Navy in the semifinal April 27 on Witter Rugby Field, which followed the Bears’ 77-0 victory against Notre Dame at the Eastern Super Regional in Annapolis, Md.
Undefeated against collegiate competition in 2013 with their only losses coming against Elite Cup senior men’s teams New York Athletic Club and Old Puget Bay Sound, BYU rolled into the final with a 53-20 win over Central Washington in the semifinal April 27 in Provo, preceded by the Cougars’ 69-8 victory against Pac Rugby’s UCLA in the Western Super Regional in Los Angeles.
The Cougars are stocked with 2012 All-Americans in prop Ray Forrester, lock T.J. Allred and No. 8 Ryan Roundy, the BYU captain, in the forwards; and centers Seki Kofe and BYU footballer Paul Lasike in the backs. Cal counters with three All-Americans of its own in the forwards – Danny Barrett, Brendan Daly and Alec Gletzer – and another in captain Seamus Kelly at outside center.
The Bears’ level of experience dips on either side of Kelly, starting with sophomore Nicklas Boyer at scrumhalf. It remains unclear whom the Bears will have at flyhalf with injuries having forced three different starting players over the past three matches at that position. Another underclassmen might be found at No. 12 in sophomore Jesse Milne since Jared Braun could also still be on the mend. Sophomore Andrew Battaglia on the wing is relatively experienced by comparison, but still a second-year player. Senior winger Josh Tucker and junior fullback Jake Anderson provide the most experience in the blue and gold’s deep three.
Kelly and Barrett both played all 80 minutes and prop Tanner Mohr saw 10 minutes of action in Cal’s last meeting with BYU at Rio Tinto Stadium for the 2011 national collegiate championship. Nobody else in the Bears’ lineup has ever faced the Cougars. Meanwhile, for BYU, five players – Forrester, Roundy, Kofe, front rower Ishmael Tilialo and halfback Inoke Funaki – will take the field on Saturday with memories of having played in the 2011 title match against the Bears.
The history between these two teams in national championship meetings has left the rugby fan wanting for nothing. The matches have featured stunning offense, punishing defense and dramatic endings. Three of their six championship title meetings have been decided by a converted try or less, and two of those were by only three points.
Cal vs. BYU has come to epitomize the best of American college rugby. On Saturday, the Bears will attempt to win their 27th all-time national championship while BYU will seek its first back-to-back championship.