Rugby: Nation's Best Again, Maybe Cal's Best Ever

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Jordan in the Finals. Montana in the Super Bowl. Cal rugby in the Final Four.

There are many yardsticks for dominance in the sports world, but nothing builds a legend like perfection on the highest stage.

The Bears carved out some more room in the hall of championship invincibles by dominating the USA Rugby Collegiate Championship for the 12th year in a row with wins over Army and Utah, and completing their first undefeated season since 1998.

Cal has appeared in 15 of the 22 Final Fours all-time, and has won the championship each time, never losing a single match at the event.

After dispatching the physical Cadets 59-5 Saturday, the Bears outslugged the underdog Utes 43-22 in the championship.

After the game, even the usually taciturn Clark was pouring forth with praise for his team.

"I'm ecstatic for the players and for myself, too," Clark said. "This was the result of a whole season of hard work, and some of the best rugby ever played by Cal."

No. 8 Kort Schubert scored two tries and earned Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament, completing a dominant senior season for the man Clark calls the best player he's ever coached.

"He's so complete in every phase of the game," Clark said. "He's dominant physically and he's a gifted playmaker. He's a world-class player."

With a 19-0 record, including a rare sweep of its Canadian opponents, this year's squad claimed a special place among Cal champions.

"It's one thing to win the national championship, but the Canadian teams are how we measure ourselves," Schubert said. "It's unique because it's never been done (in my time here)."

Clark said the team's season-long emphasis on performance over results really paid off.

"There's such a sense of pride and satisfaction, because this team realized its full potential," Clark said. "We didn't take any shortcuts, left no stone unturned and we played our best rugby in the end."

The team dedicated the championship, and the entire season, to teammate Dominic Cooke, who sustained career-ending injuries in a car accident before the season.

"He's part of the team and he deserved it as much as any of us did," Schubert said. "We've gotten motivation from (Cooke) all through the season."

The Bears had to close out their spectacular season playing ugly rugby against the Utes because of bad weather conditions, which forced a physical, grinding style of play and limited open-field running.

Utah was the tournament's Cinderella, having upset Wyoming in the semifinal despite only reaching the Final Four after San Diego State was disqualified.

Any doubts about the outcome of the championship game were dispelled within a few minutes from kickoff when Cal jumped out to an 18-0 lead.

"After that, they were playing uphill the whole game, but they kept fighting," Clark said. "They showed they belong in the Final Four."

The Utes' 22 points were the most against the Bears this season, but Clark said it was not a sign of defensive weakness.

"(Both Utah and Army) got their points against the run of play, off missed passes by us," Clark said. "Our defensive effort was the best of the year."

Army beat Wyoming 12-5 in the third-place match earlier in the day.


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