Photo by Cal Athletics

St. Mary's a Real Challenge for Cal Ruggers in National Semis

April 25, 2019

Cal faces St. Mary’s Saturday in a national rugby semifinal in Moraga. The Gaels (18-1) gave the Bears (17-1) all they could handle in a regular season matchup (photo) less than a month ago, and will be a handful for the Bears again.

“Their strength is they have no weaknesses,” Cal head coach Jack Clark said this week of the Gaels, whom the Bears defeated, 29-19, less than a month ago. That. of course, is St. Mary’s only loss.

“It was a very competitive game. Went back and forth,” Clark said this week. “I think it’s a game we were going to win by a little or lose by a little. And it worked out we were able to win.

“I know we can play better than we did then, and I’m sure they can.”

The Gaels certainly looked accomplished in last weekend’s quarterfinal match when they dismantled BYU, 71-12. St. Mary’s scored before two minutes had elapsed and led 40-0 at the half.

Sean Yacoubian led the Gael attack with 22 points, including two tries and six conversions. Clark called Yacoubian, a native of Scotland, the best scrum half in college rugby. “He is special,” Clark said. “Good skills, good leader. He can kick the ball, he can run the ball, he can pass the ball, and he makes his tackles.”

The Cal coach also lauded prop Payton Telea and No. 8 All-American Vili Helu, a fifth-year senior who anchors the Gaels’ scrum.

Cal grad Tim O’Brien is the Gaels coach. He and Clark have known one another for years. O’Brien’s playing days in Berkeley ended just before Clark became head coach 36 years ago. Clark said the teams share some common characteristics.

“We are pretty similar in the way we play the game,” he said when asked how the teams matched up. “We’ve got a bunch of forwards that aren’t bad and we can run around the field a little bit ourselves. We’ve got a little bit of gasoline on the outside if we can get the ball wide. I think our backs probably match up pretty well with them.”

Like the Gaels, the Bears advanced with a one-sided win in the quarterfinals, 61-16, over Arizona last Saturday. While not dismissing the margin of victory, Clark was less than thrilled with the Bears’ overall performance.

“ We played in spurts,” he said. “We are a pretty good team, and we looked good in spurts. Then we kind of got off the plan a little bit. We have a tendency to want to look for the early quick way to do something. Sometimes you’ve just got to have some resolve and do it the hard way. When we have more patience and are willing to do some of the hard grass the game requires, we are a better team. We got the results. We scored a bunch of tries, and we leaked a couple of tries that I am not happy with.”

Clarks was also not happy that the Bears incurred some penalties, and had to play two men short for a brief period in the second half. “We had trouble with the referee. We had 13 guys against 15 for a while, and we can’t have that issue Saturday,” Clark said. Adding that is an unusual occurrence for his team. “We play pretty competent rugby. We are not a highly-penalized team.

“Every once in a while we are the only team that gets refereed,” he added, then probably catching himself. “The referees are trying to their best, they are evaluated and have to be accountable. Ivt’s our job to see they don’t ship as many penalties our way as what happened last Saturday.”

The winner of Saturday’s game takes on the winner of the East semifinal, between  Lindenwood and Life University in the national championship game on May 4 in Santa Clara.

Life is the defending champion, having defeated Cal 60-5 in the title game last year.

The Cal-St. Mary’s game starts at noon in Moraga.


Discussion from...

St. Mary's a Real Challenge for Cal Ruggers in National Semis

How long do you want to ignore this user?
Thx for the article!
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Who wants to try and explain how Life and Lindenwood became Rugby finalists, not to mention SMC?
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Life beat Cal for title last year 60-5?

Oh. Wikipedia is my friend
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