SMC Men's Rugby to Play for National Title After Semifinal Win Over Cal

As the last kick of Saturday’s D1A national semifinal sailed out of Witter Rugby Field and the full-time whistle cut through the soundtrack of cheering fans clad in red and blue, the Saint Mary’s men’s rugby team could finally take a brief moment to exhale and think about what lies ahead.

The Gaels are headed to the national championship game.

A tremendous effort on a festive day in Strawberry Canyon saw Saint Mary’s build a big halftime lead and then weather a comeback effort from host Cal as the No. 2-ranked Gaels earned a 35-26 victory over the No. 1 Bears to win their D1A national semifinal in Berkeley.

With the victory, Saint Mary’s moves on to play for the national title next weekend in Houston, Texas. The Gaels will square off with the winner of the East bracket, Army, which defeated Lindenwood 19-14 on Saturday. The national final is scheduled for April 30 at 4 p.m. PT from Aveva Stadium. The game will be streamed live by The Rugby Network.

The Gaels will depart campus for Houston on Thursday, April 28 at 10:30 a.m. The SMC community is invited to the bus loop in front of campus to wish the team well.

Saturday’s contest offered Saint Mary’s a second chance against the Golden Bears this season as the Gaels looked to earn their victory when it mattered most.

With a trip to the national final on the line, additional motivation wasn’t really necessary. Saint Mary’s fired straight out of the blocks, building a 28-0 lead and holding a 28-5 advantage at halftime.

“28-0 is pretty significant,” Saint Mary’s head coach Tim O’Brien told the live stream broadcasters after the match. “It’s pretty easy to figure that Cal can dig their way out of a hole in a hurry and they certainly did.”

Just as O’Brien and the Gaels expected, Cal fought its way back into the contest and the Golden Bears narrowed the gap to 28-26 with 21 unanswered points. Saint Mary’s was ready with an answer though, as the Gaels grabbed a loose ball near midfield, pushed quickly down the field, and Inoke Waqavesi finished the opportunity off by slipping between two defenders and into the try zone to make the score 33-26.

Karl Keane added the conversion, one of his five on the day, and the Gaels took a nine-point lead with just over 20 minutes left to play. That was where the score would stay all the way to the final whistle, as a tremendous Saint Mary's crowd that made the trip through the Caldecott Tunnel rejoiced with the promise of more rugby to come next week.

Senior Edward King finished as the Gaels’ leading man on the scoresheet, scoring the game’s first three tries to help SMC build its lead. Fellow senior Angelo Aguirre also added a try to round out the first half scoring.

“I’m hoping we’ve got enough tape to put our bodies back together,” O’Brien said of the chance to play for the national championship. “The island of misfit toys here from Saint Mary’s really had their hands full and we’re pretty crushed.”

The Gaels will get a week to recover, but as they head to Houston in search of the program’s fourth national title in 15s, O’Brien summed up in passing what it feels like to get a chance to play for the sport’s highest prize.

“It’s pretty cool man, I’ve got to say.”