Life University are the 2017/18 D1A National Champions, after beating the University of California, Berkeley 60-5.
It was a day that had perfect running rugby conditions, which suited the style of these two teams perfectly. Hard running was the order of the day and in the beginning it was Cal that looked to be doing the damage early. Forward runners were bashing their way up against the Life defense, but ultimately thanks to a combination of incredible line speed and masterful tackling they were not fruitful in their initial attempts. When Life was able to force a penalty and pin Cal in their own 22. A brilliant chip from Duncan Van Schalkwyk was collected by Austin White and the Running Eagles were on the board.
After the game fly-half for Life, and the MVP of the game, Duncan Van Schalkyk mentioned, “Cal came out strong early but we knew if we just stuck to our guns…we’d be alright.”
Sticking to their guns is exactly what they did, as Cal looked to be under immediate pressure from the ensuing kickoff. But, after winning a string of penalties they moved into Life’s half and struck in lightning fashion. After busting up the gut of the defense Life recovered well but, with the strength of Cal’s pack when they were a couple meters out from the line, the ending was inevitable. Their captain Thomas Robles crossing over to bring the game within 2.
The teams went back and forth threatening in the middle of the field but neither able to crack the other’s defense. Eventually Life was a warded a penalty just in front of the sticks and slotted it. From there the floodgates opened and Life went on to score 24 unanswered points. The points came courtesy of some inventive play from the backline as Harley Wheeler bagged a brace and Sean Coughlin added to the tally. Going into the half it was Life leading 29-5.
For Life’s Head Coach, Colton Cariaga, he couldn’t have drawn the first half up any better. Speaking to the media after the game he noted that he, “Didn’t really have to say much to the boys, I was just trying to stay out of their way.”
When the teams found their way back on to the field for the start of the second half, it seemed as though Cal’s coach, Jack Clark, had lit a fuse under his men, as the Golden Bears came out swinging. They were pressing, prodding and probing the Life defense getting within five meters of the Life line. However, a penalty to Life started off a snowball effect and in a flash, some inspired attacking options saw Life cross over to extend their half time lead in the blink of an eye. It didn’t take too long for Life to find their way over the line again as minutes later they crossed once more and with just under half an hour Life lead, 41-5.
The game went back and forth for the next ten minutes with teams swapping penalties and field position but neither one able to capitalize. Life, as had been the fashion all game, were pushing hard through attacking lines, run in equal measure by their centers and forwards. Cal was able to put pressure the Life rucks and won a handful of penalties from their efforts around the breakdown. What really separated the team on the day was Life’s line speed and solid tackling ability as well as their tactical kicking game. Both of these elements helped Life further extend their lead as they were able to score twice in the blink of an eye from solid running by both their hooker, Brian Muntanga and inside center Mitchell Wilson saw their lead extend by 12 with a hair over ten minutes to play.
The final ten minutes saw a great effort from Cal, who fought until the very last whistle, playing a strong brand of attacking rugby. However, Cal’s effort was matched by a Life side that was feeding off an immense energy. Life was able to add to their tally via a penalty try, as Cal was called for repeated infringements around the scrum inside their own five-meter line. The final score was 60-7 in favor of Life.
For Life, it was an impressive win to cap of an impressive season, in which they ran through their schedule undefeated. For Cal, who played an unbelievable season of their own, they will have been disappointed in the way their season ended. However, for such a young team they will undoubtedly use this result as motivation for next year, as they continue to mature.