VANCOUVER, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s varsity rugby team secured their second consecutive World Cup title on Sunday afternoon by losing an agonizingly close clash against the California Golden Bears by a score of 23-21. The ‘Birds won the title through aggregate scoring, having defeated Cal 19-6 at Witter Rugby Field back on February 7th.
The match was full of hearth thumping, running rugby, and when graduating UBC fly half Bryan Tyrer crashed through for a 79th minute try to make it 21-20 for the home side, a storybook ending for the senior appeared to be in the cards.
But on the ensuing kick off, Cal kicked the ball high and long where UBC forward Michael O’Toole appeared to cleanly catch the ball leaving just seconds to play out the clock. But a penalty was whistled immediately as a UBC team mate was called for obstruction, having crossed in front of the ball catcher and preventing the Cal defence from making a clean tackle. Cal full back Jake Anderson stepped up and was able to drown out the boisterous crowd behind him to smoothly convert the penalty for the 23-21 win.
Cal players rushed the field and despite not having secured the trophy, were thrilled to defeat a team that had held them try-less on their own pitch just weeks ago.
“I’m disappointed, upset with the result,” Tyrer said after the match. “This is the biggest game of the season for us. It’s great to play in front of a crowd in the stadium against a team that plays that physical style of rugby.”
UBC Thunderbirds 21 (37 agg.), Cal Golden Bears 23, (29 agg)
The opening minutes of the match could not have gone worse for the ‘Birds as Tyrer was sent to the bin after hitting a player in the air. Despite being down a man, however, Brock Staller was able to punish the Bears for a late hit on scrum half Jorden Sandover-Best with a short-range penalty for a 3-0 lead.
Back at full strength, UBC conceded a try in the 14th minute when a loose ball was stolen by Bears fly half Russell Webb. Anderson would add a penalty four minutes later to make it 8-3.
Cal’s relentless pressure from their back row was evident as UBC found themselves on the back foot for much of the opening 20. In the 24th minute, Cal would score again when the Bears used a heavily loaded blindside to outpace the defence for a try by flanker Carl Hendrickson. With the extras from Anderson, Cal jumped out to a 15-3 lead.
“We knew we would be in for it and that they would do their research,” said UBC assistant coach Curry Hitchborn. “They had a game plan and they stuck to it. They are a good team and they clearly capitalized on our mistakes.”
UBC centre Brock Staller would miss a long penalty soon after, before making up for the miss through a highlight-reel worthy try in the 34th minute. The UBC backline spun the ball wide and Staller unloaded to full back Quinton Willms. Willms made a break before chipping towards the try line. At full pace, Staller dashed towards the goal line, smashing the ball down with one hand for the crucial score. After collecting himself and setting his tee for a difficult conversion, Staller stepped up to add the extras and closed the gap to 15-10.
The second half scoring opened in the 46th minute when Cal’s forwards were penalized for not rolling away. Tyrer made the most of the opportunity, converting the score to make it 15-13. Just minutes later, Tyrer would hit the post on a penalty attempt from 39 metres out.
Things did not get easier for the ‘Birds as second row Sam Clark was sent to the bin for a breakdown infraction in the 56th minute. UBC would have another opportunity at the sticks shortly after but Tyrer was unable to find the range.
“[Cal] were making a mess of the breakdown and we started to build momentum once we got our phases together,” Staller added. “But [Tyer] and I both left points on the field and missed a couple kicks. We also should have capitalized on the two times we were inside their five [metre lines].”
Tyrer was able to put the Thunderbirds in front soon after, kicking a penalty for a tight 16-15 lead.
With 10 minutes to play, Cal responded when centre Harry Adolphus was able capitalize on a chip and chase and dot down to make it 20-16 for the visitors.
That set the stage for a dramatic finish as Tyrer provided an edge in the 79th minute. A heart-breaking penalty call saw Cal’s Jake Anderson respond through a game-deciding 80th minute penalty.
“We had our chances,” added UBC’s Curry Hitchborn. “But we get to hang on to the Cup. It stays in Canada, and that’s what is most important.”