Cal Travels to Clemson for Varsity Cup Match

April 14, 2017

Cal Travels to Clemson for Varsity Cup Match


Photo: ABFlyer Photo ( Robert Paylor)
Cal Athletics Release: Anton Malko

BERKELEY – The road through the national postseason has taken shape for California, which will travel to face Clemson Saturday, April 15, at 1 p.m. ET on National Athletic Village Field in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship.

If they defeat the Tigers, the Golden Bears will advance to host a national semifinal Saturday, April 22, at 1 p.m. on Witter Rugby Field against Army or Penn State, who square off in another quarterfinal Saturday in University Park, Pa. The Varsity Cup national championship final takes place Saturday, May 6, at Stevens Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University.

Having advanced to their quarterfinal with a first-round bye, Cal will face a Clemson team that has proven to be a tough out in the national postseason. The Tigers, who advanced to this weekend’s quarterfinals with their 36-29 win over Dartmouth in Round 1, have scored big upsets in previous postseasons, most notably upending Arkansas State before coming within one point of Navy in the 2015 Varsity Cup.

Clemson started an all-upperclassmen set of forwards against Dartmouth and figures to do the same against the Bears. The Tigers fell behind early against the Big Green but fought their way back, thanks in part to a 55-meter rumbling try by junior lock Liam Hellstrom that was followed in the first half by a powerful finish from junior flanker Joel Jaldin. Cal may see the same powerful front row for Clemson in seniors Joshua Dyson, Alex Wolhlers and Nick Bilgri; agile locks in senior Stuart Harr and Hellstrom; and an experienced back row featuring Jaldin, fellow junior Tommy Rippert and former All-America Jason Damm, a senior, at No. 8. Clemson’s backs feature strong ballcarriers, highlighted by senior winger Colin Gregory, who scored two second-half tries to help put Dartmouth away.

For the Bears, the Varsity Cup quarterfinal travel roster is likely to include one or more freshman or sophomore in almost every position group, anchored around the core leadership of seniors Russell Webb at flyhalf, Anthony Salaber at inside center and Patrick Barrientes at outside center.

Cal freshman Damon Wiley could be making his first national postseason start at tighthead prop alongside either Wade Ogburn or fellow freshman Sid Holland at hooker, with Kevin Sullivan wearing No. 1 at loosehead.

Sophomore Robert Paylor is on track to start at lock next to Connor Sweet, while freshman Thomas Spradling and sophomore Nic Mirhashem should get the call for the back row flanking No. 8 Drew Gaffney.

Freshman Keanu Andrade is the early pick for the scrumhalf jersey against Clemson, and in the deep three, freshman Sam Cusano will work with fellow winger Jake Goena and Aidan Flynn, who will be getting a major test in his first run at fullback.

For Cal, Saturday’s Varsity Cup quarterfinal is a chance to advance one step closer to a national title and host one more match this spring on Witter Rugby Field.

While the Bears will be vying for the right to host Army or Penn State, the other side of the Varsity Cup quarterfinal bracket features Central Washington, recipients of a first-round bye, at Navy, which beat Boston College, 64-14, in Round 1; and Arkansas State, which advanced past Oklahoma, hosting Utah Valley, which upset UCLA in their Round 1 matchup.

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