Saturday, May 7, 2016

Cal Upset BYU in Varsity Cup Thriller

When Tua Laei scored for BYU--their third score in fifteen minutes to start the second half--it seemed like the Cougars were on their way to claim a fourth consecutive Varsity Cup. Showing grit, determination, and most importantly some great rugby sense Cal stormed back to score three converted tries in the last 10 minutes to beat BYU 40-29 in a thrilling upset.

After the match Cal head coach Jack Clark called it one of the best wins in the history of the Cal program. It certainly has to be in discussion. We had suggested it would be close but you would have been hard pressed to find anyone to bet against BYU. The Cougars had been nearly unstoppable all year while Cal had also bowled over opponents they weren't always as convincing as BYU. In the end none of that mattered as Cal walk away with the cup.

Although Cal got big contributions from a number of players Man of the Match Russell Webb, scrumhalf Nick Boyer, and lock James Kondrat all deserve special mention. Webb took it up to another level when the Golden Bears needed someone to step up. In particular, he was a big part of Cal's boot it into the corner and use your forwards to push over strategy at the end. That strategy only worked because Kondrat dominated the lineout all match.

Take the jump to read more.
Foreshadowing what was to come at the end of the match Cal got out attacking early. They should have had a score when they had an overlap on the wing but Patrick Barrientes wasn't able to make the final pass. He would have an opportunity to correct himself a few minutes later and this time there was no mistake as his pass found Lucas Dunne for the score. With seven minutes played Cal led 5-0.

Compounding the difficult start for BYU were injuries to Jared Whippy to Kevin Schofield. Whippy and Schofield have been immense for the Cougars this year and not only did they miss their abilities offensively but the injuries also seemed to stun the Cougars for a time.

Eventually the Cougars found their feet and began to get into a rhythm. Keeping possession BYU finally found a break from hooker Alex Forrester, who was excellent in the match, who then found Zach Webber for the score. Calvin Whiting would step up and make the conversion. The Cougars then added another five minutes later. A great pass from Luke Mocke found a streaking Joe Pikula. He was caught but not before he passed it out to Arawa Elkington for the try. When Whiting connected again BYU led 14-5.

At this point in the match it looked like BYU would pull away. However, credit to Cal as they once again dug in and were able to find their way through. Just four minutes after BYU scored a very good pass from Boyer found Zach Tavenner for the try. Still, BYU held a 14-12 lead at the half.

BYU came out firing in the second half and showed the quality of rugby that has seen them ranked number one in our College Top Ten all year. First Zach Webber broke through the defense before passing to Ryan Blaser for a try and then Whiting hit a penalty. Suddenly BYU found themselves up 24-12.

Cal did strike back to keep it close. Michael Bush finished off what was a great head's up play from Boyer to take a quick tap. However, when Tua Laei scored a fantastic try on the sideline BYU once again looked like they were going to run away with it at 29-19.

The Golden Bears continued to have opportunities, including a Boyer kick attempt but every time the BYU defense came up big. That all changed with ten minutes to go. Anthony Salaber was the first to touch down and two minutes later he was joined by Boyer. The Boyer try came once again as BYU were penalized around down field, leading to Webb booting it down near the try line. From there Kondrat was able to claim the lineout and the Cal forwards did the rest to set up the try. A soon as they were down, Cal were ahead 33-29.

Even though they were down the match still felt like it had another BYU try in it. After all, the Cougars have scored a lot of points this year and even earlier in this match they punched in some quick tries. However, the Cougars were done in time and time again by simple errors. They uncharacteristically knocked the ball on over a dozen times. Those opportunities not only killed their chances to score but they set up perfect opportunities for Cal. Instead of BYU scoring last it would be Cal with Bush scoring his second.

It was one of the best college games of the year with each side doing many things well. In the end it came down to the veteran heads of Webb, Boyer, and Kondrat that pushed Cal through against the Cougars, something few of these Cal players had ever done.


  1. Who says the Varsity Cup, created by Cal for Cal and BYU, determines the National 15's champions? What arrogance.

  2. It is not perfect, but their really are no teams that could beat BYU or Cal that are not in this competition.

  3. That's precisely one of my points. The whole Varsity Cup is a joke with the whole format set up to have a bunch of patsies participate with the sole goal of Cal and BYU playing each other. This was the first year since it's inception that there were even any competitive games before the final. And Life and St Mary's could both beat those teams. They've beaten each other in the past and all their games are close. A split championship tournament does nothing for the betterment of college rugby, and you can thank Cal and their money grab for the split in college rugby.

    1. cal has beaten smc the last 2 seasons and byu has beaten smc 4 times in the last 2 years

  4. Pretty sure Life deserves a shot at both CAL and BYU for going undefeated.

  5. College football was the same way for many years with multiple national champions named by the AP or the Coaches Poll. it will straighten itself out one day.

  6. Cal got lucky to even be in the finals. Central Washington had them beat save for a missed penalty kick on the last play of the game