As BYU-Cal games go, Saturday's down-to-the-wire, 30-27 match, which earned the Cougars their fourth straight US collegiate crown and fifth overall, was no more than middling and not less than the American game of the year.
Twice the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship looked to gotten away from the Bears, BYU's second try at 24 minutes establishing a 17-3 lead and a third at the hour mark making the contest 27-12. Despite struggling with possession, however, the visitors willed their way to 4 second-half 5-pointers. The difference may have been the Cal's decision to ignore an easy penalty goal just before intermission.
So went the 2015 edition. With respect to St. Mary's, the rivalry stands above all else, is measured against itself. In a white-hot series that has settled the national championship nine of the last ten seasons, among the best are Cal's 29-26 win in 2006, BYU's 25-22 breakthough title in 2008, Cal's 21-14 win in 2011, and BYU's 27-24 championship in 2013.
Little wonder that Kyle Sumsion, the senior flanker who announced himself two years ago in the Provo decider, left the USA 'A' tour to South America early to play Saturday in Salt Lake City. BYU and Cal are programs which build character and loyalty in players, alumni, and fans.
Everyone else benchmarks against the duo. Many rise and fall with a given class of players, whereas the Bears and Cougars have developed and sustained models for producing successive generations of elite rugby athletes.
It's often said that Cal 'gets' better players, a charge also now leveled at BYU. This has become more of a left-handed compliment to the high school coaches of northern California and Utah. All over the country there are athletes arriving on campus with four, five, six years of experience -- sometimes in programs that are better-run than the university side.
Nor is it meaningful to point to international students. Skill players such as BYU's Jon Linehan or Cal's Russell Webb obviously help, but as the rise and decline of Arkansas State demonstrates, it takes 30-odd players to make a team, and the team has to be completely remade every four to five years.
Recruiting is no more than a component of the model. The heart of the matter is how college teams better their troops.
Player development can be seen as self-reliance, and it extends beyond technical systems to administration, event management, and commerce. It's not surprising that business interests such as Penn Mutual coalesce around the engines of college rugby.
Sumison claimed MVP honors, though Linehan's 15 points on 6-of-6 goalkicking, as well as a deft crossfield kick assisting Jared Whippy's 60th-minute try, would have put the flyhalf in contention.
Brigham Young 30 California 27 (halftime: BYU 17-3)
Brigham Young Univ.
Tries: Seki Kofe
Conversions: Jon Linehan (3)
Penalties: Jon Linehan (3)
Ryan Blaser (Jared Whippy); Joshua Anderson (Tua Laei), Joshua Whippy, Seki Kofe (Calvin Whiting), Jordan Lowry; Jon Linehan, Luke Mocke; Ryker Haddock (Zane Mendenhall, Steve Livingston), Alex Vorster, Kody Thompson, Kyle Lontine, Dan Hubert (Nic Purcell), Kyle Sumsion (captain), Ara Elkington (Win Elkington), Joe Pikula
Univ. of California
Tries: Paul Bosco, Jake Anderson, Michael Bush, Anthony Salaber
Conversions: Jake Anderson (2)
Jake Anderson (captain); Andrew Battaglia, Harry Adolphus, Anthony Salaber, Miles Honens; Russell Webb, Paul Bosco (Nick Boyer); Scott Walsh, Michael Bush, George Vrame (Kevin Sullivan), James Kondrat, Sione Sina (Tomas Zerbino), Carl Hendrickson (Edward Tandy), Drew Gaffney (Tandy), Alec Gletzer, Connor Sweet
Referee: Kurt Weaver (Eastern Rockies)