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BYU's Joe Pikula with ball. Abel Barrientes photo

BYU claimed its fourth-straight national title Saturday, beating Cal 30-27 in the Varsity Cup final at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The Cougars never trailed and appeared to pull away twice, but the Bears kept coming back.

Cal made the first threat at the try line with an attacking five-meter lineout a few minutes in. The Bears won the lineout, but their maul was shoved backwards and the aggressive Cougar defense pushed the second ruck off the set piece to the 22-meter line.

BYU’s early forays into the Cal end were stymied by lock James Kondrat, who stole BYU’s first two lineouts. The Cougars and Bears then engaged in a kicking battle, with a Cal handling error leading to BYU’s first try. Seki Kofe picked up a dropped ball in the Cal backline and raced in untouched. Jonny Linehan converted, putting the Cougars up 7-0.

Ara Elkington also made his presence known early on. The BYU openside ripped the ball from a Cal maul, putting the Cougars on the front foot. He would touch the ball offensively on that possession, too, during which BYU was afforded a shot at goal. Jonny Linehan split the uprights, pushing the lead to 10-0 with 10 minutes gone.

Cal got on the board in the 15th minute after a breakdown penalty on BYU. Referee Kurt Weaver had a chat with BYU’s leadership after the whistle, warning that the Cougar tacklers needed to roll away quicker. Jake Anderson teed up the penalty and knocked it over.

Cal appeared to make a grave mistake shortly thereafter, giving BYU an attacking lineout inside the 22. The Cougars won the lineout, but Alec Gletzer was able to BYU over in a tackle via a penalty, ending the immediate threat.

The Bears picked up some momentum in a midfield scrum a minute or two later. It was BYU’s put-in, but the PAC champions drove the Cougar pack over the ball, earning a penalty. Cal kept the ball in the attacking end, but handling errors continued to thwart every chance.

After a Cal knock in the 25th minute, the Cougars scored straight from a midfield scrum. Josh Whippy split two Cal defenders, one of which Jake Anderson collided with, setting BYU free. The fullback dished to wing Josh Anderson, who carried it into pay dirt.

Cal made a big break near the half-hour mark, with Russell Webb running out of support about five meters short of the try line. Cal went through a few more phases in close, but BYU’s stout defense repelled the Bears easily.

Cal got another point blank possession and was awarded a five-meter penalty, but the Bears chose to run the ball instead of take the more conventional option of a lineout or a scrum. BYU made them pay, pushing Cal back to near the 22 again.

The Cougars were penalized again on the possession, and front rower Zane Mendenhall was sent off for 10 minutes. This time, about 15 meters from pay dirt, Cal took a scrum. However, this threatening drive ended with a knock on.

One more attacking set piece was on offer for Cal in the first half after another BYU penalty. The Bears won their lineout but were turned over and the half ended 17-3 in BYU’s favor.

Cal finally broke the seal in the third minute of the second half. BYU was penalized for being offside in an impressive, methodic Cal maul from a lineout, and Paul Bosco quickly tapped from five meters away and dove over for the score. Anderson slotted the touchline conversion, pulling the Bears within a converted score at 17-10.

BYU appeared to be away for a score in the 29th minute, but the finishing pass was forward. Off the scrum, fifth-year senior Jake Anderson made a massive play, evading three BYU defenders up the touch line and over for a try in the corner. The difficult conversion was missed, leaving BYU up 17-15.

BYU caught a break in the 58th minute when a series of reset scrums led to a Cal penalty. Linehan lined up a touch line kick from about 30 meters out and knocked over three points, extending the lead to 20-15.   

Linehan kicked for points again, but this time it was for five. Josh Whippy grubbered up the touch line and a superb chase wound up in a penalty against Cal. Kyle Sumsion went quick, and a phase later Linehan cross kicked for Jared Whippy, who hauled in the ball for a try. With the conversion, BYU led 21-15.

Cal replied shortly thereafter with an enterprising play of its own. Anderson popped up a chip kick, BYU bobbled it, and Michael Bush was able to find pay dirt. Anderson’s conversion attempt was missed, but the try pulled the Bears within a converted score at 27-20.

Linehan made it a two-score game in the 66th minute. Cal was again penalized in a scrum within Linehan’s range. The Kiwi easily put up three points – 30-20.

Cal earned an important attacking platform in the 73rd minute, forcing a penalty against BYU in a heavily contested ruck. The Bears kicked to touch and had a lineout near the 22. Ball won, it was knocked on. That seemed like it would have the chance to take the wind out of Cal’s sails, but a well-executed counterattack put Anthony Salaber in for a try and the result was back in doubt. Anderson converted, making it 30-27 with five minutes to play.

Cal earned a penalty and an attacking lineout about 30 meters out. The Bears had been rock solid in the lineout all day, but they couldn’t bring this one down cleanly, and a pick from the deck was knocked on. BYU drained what it thought was the rest of the clock before kicking to touch. However, time was not up.

Cal took the lineout seamlessly, and a charging run forward pushed the Bears toward the game winner, but the ball was lost forward on the next run, giving BYU its fourth-straight national title. 

Comments

"BYU claimed its fourth-straight national title Saturday" didn't they claim only the Varsity Cup Championship an invitational event?
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You voted '-1'.
If you want to engage in a fun game of semantics tag, you can call the Varsity Cup whatever you want. How do you feel about USA Rugby's D1AA "National Championship"? You really think it's more deserving of that title than the Varsity Cup?
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I agree with your semantics comment...UVU won the D1AA Championship against USU...I think BYU beat them both with scores over ~90 points higher. UVU is the D1AA National Champions though. Go Wolverines! BYU beat St. Mary's too. Ranking wise BYU is #1 overall and beat EVERYONE they played. All I care is that the game grows and grows and grows! I love seeing more teams getting involved in the action...I would pay to see the winner of St. Mary's and Life play BYU in another game too.
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Well, considering that three of the nations five best teams (Life, St Mary's and Arkansas State) didn't compete in the varsity cup, I'd say that no, this was absolutely not a legitimate national championship. I do predict that since Jack Clark is figuring out he can't just automatically win the "National Championship" by playing in his own invite only tournament, he'll pack up his toys and go home once again though! The only question is to where? Back to the DI-A? (BTW Pat Clifton, the DIAA is the second division championship, DI-A is the first division, the one that Life, St. Mary's and Arkansas State among others are competing in)
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Jesse, I think your information is a little out of date. The rankings posted by Rugby Today on 4/15/15 show 1. BYU 2. Cal 3. Life 4. St. Mary's 5. Central Washington (another Varsity Cup team). Which means 3 out of the top 5 are Varsity Cup teams. Therefore, by your logic, the DI-A champ is definitely not the national champ. BYU has now beat three other teams in the top 5 (Cal, Central Washington, and St. Mary's twice) and it is safe to say they are the best team in the nation. I believe you used the rankings from last year which is the first thing that comes up in a Google search for "college rugby rankings". The current rankings were posted in an individual article by Rugby Today and are not under the rankings tab. Also, this is Arkansas State's first year as a Varsity Cup team.
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As much as we all want more competition, the fact remains that BYU and Cal are still on a different level then every other team in the nation. The gap is closing though as St Mary's, Life, Central Washington, and maybe one or two others now have a chance at competing with them. But 9/10 times BYU and Cal will still win. BYU is the best team in the nation, they are the national champions, and unless Life manages to dominate St Mary's, D1A will still be viewed as second tier.
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St. Marys is probably going to win the D1A title again this year and BYU beat them twice in a home and away series this year. In my opinion, BYU is the top side in college rugby this year and has been for the past 3-4 years with St. Marys being arguably equal or a close second in the last few years. With that being said, I think it really sucks for fans that USA Rugby cannot get together with all of the top programs and negotiate a true national tournament that everyone can participate in. Having the D1A tournament and the Vasity Cup is not necessary. Everyone knows that the Varsity cup is set up for Cal and BYU to meet in the title game every year, barring a major upset. and the D1A tourney looks like it is going to be getting the same two teams repeatedly as well in St Marys and Life. In the meantime, until USA Rugby can work out this problem, why not do a plus one and have each tournament winner meet in an extra "exhibition match"? I bet they could get some solid sponsorship for the game and the schools could benefit financially from it?
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Agreed. Part of the East Coast is playing Sevens when Union is going on in the Central and West areas. AIC, Kutztown and other good rugby "division" leaders are not engaged in the "Union/15's championships" going on now. I would go to a +1 game. I think the U.S. needs to streamline the process and make it uniform across the nation so everyone is doing the same thing at the same time and we can get a focused National Championship Rugby system going. The great thing is there is more publicity and sponsorships and MONEY going into Rugby now than ever before. fastest growing sport in the US and BEST GAME ON THE PLANET!
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My guess is that if an event promoter stepped up with travel expenses and , say, $100k in scholarship funds for the two schools, the Varsity Cup and USAR Team could play each other.
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