After that late change in playoff bracket for the Final Four which got a lot of people in the college rugby community mad at USA Rugby, California Golden Bears (21-2) will play the Lindenwood Lions (24-3) in the 2nd national semifinal on Saturday from Moraga, CA for a spot in next Saturday’s (May 5th) national championship game from Santa Clara University’s Stevens Stadium (same site as the Varsity Cup national championship last year). The first national semifinal will see the surprising Penn State Nittany Lions visiting the Life Running Eagles from Marietta, GA. Cal got to save the otherwise $40,000 trip to Georgia, and will also help Lindenwood with the cost of their travel.
While not having to travel across the country is certainly an advantage for the Golden Bears, the Lindenwood Lions should not be overlooked. Lindenwood, from St. Charles, Missouri, soundly defeated No.1 seed Saint Mary’s College just last weekend by a 43-22 result in the quarterfinals. They also defeated Texas A&M 83-12 on the road in the opening round. The three losses for Lindenwood in 2018 came agains their alumni (24-26) and Life twice (18-22, 12-31).
In their program history, Lindenwood have won the other (not the CRC) Collegiate Rugby 7s national championship. Founded in 2011, they won the Division II national title in 2012 before moving up to Divions 1. Lindenwood has a very experienced team this year that may pose some problems for the Golden Bears.
Thus far this postseason, the Lions have started four graduate students along with eight other upperclassmen, providing them an experience advantage over most teams. Lindenwood is led by an Australian halfback connection of Nick Feakes and Andreas Livadaras, who just arrived in St. Charles, Mo., in January. The halfbacks link with fifth-year Argentine Juan Romero at inside center. Two highly touted USA internationals, Lorenzo Thomas and Deion Mikesell, feature respectively at outside center and wing. Sam Chapman starts on the other wing and Cristian Rodriguez, an All-American, is the fullback.
The Lindenwood back row features South African Michael de Waal at blindside flanker, Australian graduate student Tom O’Connor at open-side flanker and South African Wesley White at No. 8. Another South Africa-Australia combination starts in the second row, with Chris Schoeman in the No. 4 shirt and graduate student Jack Huckstepp at No. 5. The Lions’ front row feature standout prop Chance Wenglewski and graduate students Gabriel Romero at hooker and Corey Harmann at the other prop.
Mikesell scored 3 tries in their win over SMC. You can watch the highlights from that match from the link below.
For the Cal Bears, their two losses in 2018 came from a reserved team losing at University of British Columbia and the regular season loss to Saint Mary’s College. Bears defeated Grand Canyon University 85-14 in the first round before having to rally from a 15-10 halftime deficit to beat Navy 33-27 in the quarterfinal.
At this point of the season, injuries are inevitable. Sophomore wing (and 2017 CRC MVP) Sam Cusano could not play against Navy due to an injury; he is probable for today’s match. Against Navy, Bears also had to play Keanu Andrade out of position as a center out of necessity (first two choices were also injured). Bears are also hoping for Damon Wiley (also on Cal Football) to be available, which then shifts another player to his preferred position. Regardless of all the injury concerns, you know that you can always count on Coach Jack Clark’s men to be prepared and not use anything as an excuse.
Despite a fairly decent regular season, this year’s young Cal squad has been vulnerable in numerous occasions from giving Army a late lead at Witter to this recent halftime deficit to Navy. Still, both sides will get opportunities to score some tries in this match, and it will come down to executions, particularly late in the match. I don’t think either team will be worn down to allow the other to run away with this one. When it is all said and done, I predict that the home field advantage will allow the Golden Bears to win by less than one score. It should be an exciting match.
Most importantly, ICYMI, injured Cal rugby player Robert Paylor was able to leave the Craig Hospital in Colorado under his own power. He has made tremendous progress in his rehabilitation and has now feeling in all of his extremities.
D1A Rugby National Semifinal: Cal vs. Lindenwood
Where: Moraga, CA
When: Saturday, April 28th, 2018 at 1:30 PM PT
TV: CBS Sports Network