Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cal Claims Fourth Straight CRC

By Brendan Triplett

The weather held out and the day was perfect for some intense rugby.  Despite some sluggish starts, early in the morning, the Quarter-Finals looked strong and set the stage for the California Golden Bears to close the books on their fourth straight championship title.  On the day the attendance broke all the records, just as we predicted, with a Sunday attendance of 12,378 bringing the event total to 27,224, a 9.72% increase in overall attendance from last year.  To bring this into perspective, the Pro12 Championship game in Scotland featuring Connacht and Leinster had an attendance of 34,550.  We have something to be proud of.

The Golden Bears of course have even more to be proud of with their outstanding trail to glory that seemed to only begin today.  Starting the day early, the Golden Bears faced off against their pool rivals of Arkansas.  This was the second time they faced this team on their road to victory and the Red Wolves looked hungry for an upset.  California started out the quarter-final rather sluggish, allowing the Red Wolves to put up 14 points before deciding to answer back.  What resulted was a 14-14 half with California gaining momentum.  The Golden Bears fought hard in the second half and when they took the lead, Arkansas pulled out the stops and made a push towards the line.  It looked as though they would pull it off and find a way to tie the game up and force the overtime but a chip shot intended to gain some ground landed squarely in the able hands of Russell Webb.  It was a nail in the coffin and closed the door for Arkansas to upset the champions.  Final, 24-14.

Take the jump to read more.

The semifinal showed us a California team that we expected to see, play against Arizona.  Arizona looked good against Life in the Quarters with the first overtime period of the tournament.  They showed incredible determination inside the 22 and a yellow card at the end of the OT period by Conner Mooneyham sealed the win for Arizona to face off against the Golden Bears.  The few hours between matches woke the Golden Bears up and they came together like a team possessed to attack Arizona without compassion.  5 tries, pushed over the line by Russell Webb, William Fuller (2), Anthony Slaber, and Fawzi Kawash destroyed the willpower of Arizona despite a late 2nd half rally by Matt Rogers.  At the end of the match William Fuller put a final touch on the game with a Try and the Golden Bears moved one step closer to their dream. Final, 38-5.

The final made it an all-PAC championship.  UCLA, who made an impact in the early hours of the day against Penn State (PSU).  They were incredibly sharp on the ball and ultimately made fewer errors than their east-coast counterparts.  PSU rallied in the last 5 minutes of the match but it just wasn’t enough and the Bruins passed on to face Kutztown in what was arguably the match of the day.  Kutztown were strong, as everyone expected, and took an early lead that they held onto well into the second half.  UCLA struggled to find their feet against Kutztown’s offense but some impressive footwork from Devin Lim put the match back in reach.  With less than a minute of play left the Bruins’ own Niall Barry got over the line and stole victory from the clutches of defeat.  Enter California, they were not impressed with the early wins by the Bruins and after they gained their momentum, late in the first half, they never stepped off the gas and held UCLA face-down in the pitch for the rest of the test with tries from Jake Goena, Jesse Milne, Patrick Barrientes, and Anthony Salaver (2) ending the game in dramatic form, 31-7 with a win and the Championship title.

In other big matches we have Wisconsin and Indiana in the Plate Final.  The game was good but really got interesting in the second half after a score from the Hoosiers brought the game to within a few points of a win.  In an incredible show of force and skill Wisconsin held onto their lead through several minutes of punishing Indiana attacks and when the dust cleared Indiana beat themselves only meters from the line with a penalty that ended the match.  Scorers for Wisconsin were Luke Hendricks and Jacob Syndergaard.  Final, 7-10.

The Bowl Final between Army and Maryland showed just how strong the Army team is getting after their hiatus from the event.  Torran Raby, the freshman center, scored two tries in the first half, muscling his way through Maryland and over the line.  The Black Knights spent the rest of match playing defense and were incredibly impressive, repelling an onslaught of ragtag attacks on their lines.  They held the line and in the end were rewarded as the Terrapins took a penalty and the match was ended.  Final, 10-0.

The message for all of the developing teams out there is penalties.  Speed on the ball can be adjusted, gameplay can be enhanced, endurance can be worked but in many of these matches the endings came too soon due to careless mistakes and forced errors.  Player development will focus on ball handling and knowing when to hold it and run and when to commit a player and then pass.  It was a great day for match play and the fans showed up en force to see history in the making.  California is the first team to win both the Varsity Cup Championship and the Collegiate Rugby Championship in the same year.  They are holding their heads high and celebrating having won the event 4 times since its inception.  For a look at all the match day scores check out the CRC Score Cards.  What a great day for California and all of the teams that brought their best to the Talen Energy Stadium here in Philadelphia.  Look for big improvements on the teams throughout their upcoming seasons and be ready for an even bigger event next year.  For now, just enjoy the replays and all of the Monday-morning scrumhalfing and as always ruck on!
Day One Recap

What an incredible day on the pitch.  With the results in we are all looking to tomorrow to see the epic finale as the powerhouses come head to head and fight for the crown as the 2016 CRC Champions.

First lets look at the day.  The attendance was incredible; with a 14,846 fans moving from the fan-zone to the stadium itself.  The record for all previous years, on day one, has been broken.  Penn Mutual expected this, if you recall from our interview with them, and all of the hard work has come to fruition.  Look back to prior year.  In 2015 the attendance for both days was 24,813, with a almost equal attendance on both days.  If we are to follow the same trajectory then the prior year attendance will be smashed by the thousands.  And why not?  We are seeing schools become more competitive, the field expand, and the sport garner more attention and funding then ever before.  It is only fitting that the collegiate level championships pull this kind of attention.

Now, onto the day.  There were several teams that performed as we expected them and even more teams that either fared better or worse than we had originally predicted.  University of California was flawless, as usual with only a short stutter step with Arkansas after blanking Maryland and Tennessee.  Arkansas walked away with second place in the pool in what was an easier to predict pool and not one to really bet any big money on.  Kutztown never failed to disappoint, taking first place in the pool, and solid pool play between Indiana, Notre Dame, and Boston ended with Indiana taking second place despite the three-way tie on points and wins.  Arizona came out on top blanking everyone but Saint Joseph’s who were the second place wonder children of the tournament and arguably showed the most heart to take their position in the quarterfinals.  Incredible speed on the ball and an experienced and tested team, Saint Joe’s showed their own flavor and let the country know that they are here to stay and contend.  Pool D showed incredible gamesmanship with Life, Penn State and Virginia all fighting for their lives against one another and a point differential putting Life and Penn State at the top of the pool.  UCLA didn’t let anyone stand a chance and held everyone off to only offering up 7 points all day long.  They took their top position with Wisconsin taking second in the pool.  Pool F disappointed the Temple fans who only a short time ago were celebrating a successful start of the season tourney win.  They lost out in what some are calling the pool of death as being one of the strongest teams to walk away without a quarterfinal spot.  Dartmouth and Utah kept their game ball strong walking away with first and second in their pool respectively.

The much-anticipated Army v Navy game was good in its own right as both teams are still developing and Army is returning from a hiatus.  With The Knights taking the win this year the two teams are all squared up 2-2 in wins against each other in the four years that they have faced off.  This is of course not counting the win of the Military Memorial Cup in 2012 by Army.  There seems to be a rivalry here that is more evenly matched than that of another contact sport rivalry match and we look forward to seeing just how hard they come at each other next year.

It promises to be another great day of ball if the thunderstorms don’t stop gameplay.  We hope they wont because every rugby player has war stories of playing in the mud and wouldn’t it just make the event that much more spectacular.  Get to the match are at least watch on NBC and get ready for some good game ball.  This is what it is all about… home teams, rivalries, blood, sweat, and tears.  Wake up early and brave the weather all day for what promises to be the best record-breaking tournament ever.  Ruck on!

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