Cal Golden Bears vs. BYU Cougars - USA Rugby National College Premier Championship - 3 questions

So I thought I would take a look at the Saturday matchup between BYU and Cal for the National College Premier Rugby Championship by doing a 3 questions post.  Since I don't know that much about Rugby and less about BYU or Cal, I turned to some experts on both to answer my 3 questions.  For BYU the answers come from @four4byu who is repping for vanquishthefoe.com.  For Cal it is "RugbyVet" from Californiagoldenblogs.com and I owe both of them for the great answers.

I will alternate between the two schools and their answers:

1) BYU has developed a very strong rugby program over the years, what has been the key to their success and how has that success been received on campus?

A) BYU's Rugby history has direct ties to it's larger International missionary program. They have long attracted players from foreign countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Polynesian nations and Australia. They are led by head coach David Smyth from Londonderry, Ireland who served an LDS mission to California. Smyth had a successful career playing in Ireland before coaching Rugby in the US at BYU. In addition to international play however, BYU has benefited from some of the best High School rugby club teams in the country, primarily Highland. Here is a link outlining the success of Rugby in Utah, which has benefited BYU Rugby, http://jimmer.it/VgidtH. Overall BYU Rugby has had solid support both on campus and throughout the community. Since they are a club team and have no scholarships for players, they rely on funds donated and proceeds from games, merchandise, etc, along with player contributions to fund travel and costs.

more after the jump:

1) Cal has simply been "the man" when it comes to collegiate rugby in the United States. How has the school built such an incredible program and how is the program received on campus?

A) Rugby's tradition goes back 129 years at Cal. Winning at rugby is also a tradition. Early-era recordkeeping was spotty, but for the three coaches that kept tally (Cal's only had six rugby coaches since 1882), a 939-173-38 record -- an 81.7% win ratio -- has been amassed. Cal's modern rugby model was fashioned by longtime Head Coach Miles "Doc" Hudson, who helmed the side from 1938 to 1974.

Cal's current Head Coach, Jack Clark, was a protege of Doc Hudson and carries on his legacy. In Clark's tenure, the Bears have won 87.7% of their matches (a 522-68-5 record).

At Cal, rugby's not just a sport. It's an ethos. The best parallel one can draw is to the esprit de corps fostered in the U.S. Marine Corps (Jack Clark, in fact, coached the USMC's rugby side for a time). Among Marines, tradition is hallowed, discipline and physical fitness are paramount and selflessness is expected. You find those same elements among Cal ruggers, fostered by Clark and Coach Tom Billups, along with a commitment to constant performance imporvement. As Clark says, "We're not very neurotic about winning games, but we're pretty neurotic about getting better."

2) This won't be the first time that Cal and BYU face off for the national title. What will be the keys to a Cal victory?

A) In fact, this is the sixth time in as many years that the two schools have contested the title (the previous five years, the Bears and Cougars squared off as members of USA Rugby's Division 1; this is the inaugural championship for the College Premier Division).

BYU has always been a formidable competitor. The Cougars have been especially impressive this year, gaining some decisive victories over highly ranked teams such as #12 Arizona, #11 Penn State, #10 Arizona State, #8 Navy and #3 Arkansas State.

Cal Head Coach Jack Clark is on record saying that the Bears will need to "hang onto the ball and take BYU deep into game."


The Cougars have a potent defense, in part due to the size of its forward pack. The average BYU player is 10 pounds heftier than Cal's. With that kind of resistance, the Bears can't let the scoreline get away from them.

2) BYU and Cal have battled for the national title in the past, what will BYU need to do this year to come out on top?

A) When you look at the history between BYU and Cal for the Collegiate National Championship, it is impressive...but keep in mind that for a long time, BYU could not compete for the championship as it was held on Sunday. Being a club sport, USA Rugby was not required to provide Saturday play for BYU if the Cougars qualified. As a result, BYU dominated regular seasons, only to sit out the tournament.

The Cougars match up well with Cal, and this game is similar to the Cougars title win in 2009 with both teams healthy and playing at the top of their game. BYU however needs to avoid what happened in their previous match with Arkansas State, where they started off slowly on the offensive end, and made a few early uncharacteristic mistakes that allowed ASU to jump out to a early lead. BYUs defense held out long enough for the offense to recover and ultimately allow the Cougars to put the match away late, but a similar start verses Cal could be disastrous. BYU needs to jump out to a strong offensive start, as the team has fed off strong starts all season and dominated as a result. Matchups being even, if the Cougars can avoid the early mistakes they made verses ASU, they will be in a solid position to win another National Championship.

Cal has a 26-0 record, 52 game winning streak going back to last season, 25 National Championships and are 7-1 all-time verses BYU, so the Cougars will have to be at the top of their game and show ability to manage the end of the game to be in position to win.

3) Who are the key players for BYU that fans should keep an eye on, and why?

A) The Cougars top player is Junior Scrum Half Shaun Davies from Durban, South Africa. Davies is 5'9" 176 and is known for his tough runs and quickness. Junior All-American prop Mikey Su'a is another key player at 5'11" 295, and unusually quick for his size and build.

3) Who are the players on the Cal team that people should watch for and why?

Well, there's senior fullback and captain Blaine Scully who'll look to add to his nine tries this season. Senior flanker Thomas Rooke and junior wing James McTurk, each with 8 tries, could also be in the scoring mix. Sophomore center Seamus Kelly is also a potent scoring threat out of the scrum.Senior flyhalf James Bailes has a golden boot which will be critically important in conversions and penalty kicks.

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