UBC thrashes Berkeley to take seventh-straight World Cup title

Sunday saw the UBC Thunderbirds men’s rugby team win the 99th World Cup series in a second match against the University of California Berkeley Golden Bears. A second-game comeback saw the Thunderbirds overcome the 15-point differential to win their seventh consecutive title.

The T-Birds had to overcome a 15-point deficit to win the title.
The T-Birds had to overcome a 15-point deficit to win the title. Salomon Micko Benrimoh

The World Cup is a two-game series played between Berkeley and UBC. With only two games, the total point differential between the games decides the series winner. To win the series, the Thunderbirds had to overcome their previous loss of 36–21.

Behind in the series, the T-Birds made their desire to win clear less than two minutes into the game. The Thunderbirds scored on their first possession in a high-octane string of phases which saw strong running, broken tackles and flashy offloading that eventually led to the first T-Bird try by Connor Sampson.

Aided by his teammate, the hooker would overpower his opposite defender to score a try under the sticks. The conversion was good, making it 7–0 for UBC.

UBC would further close the point differential, when fly-half Tighe Maxwell-Whiteley slotted a penalty goal between the uprights to make it 10–0.

A Cal player makes a break during the first half of Sunday’s game.
A Cal player makes a break during the first half of Sunday’s game. Salomon Micko Benrimoh

The Thunderbird momentum would take a hit though. Berkeley got a penalty goal of their own in addition to an unconverted try. The new 10–8 scoreline left UBC in the lead but lowered their chances of beating the 15-point differential.

The T-Birds would bounce back when on the Bears try-line, scrum-half Max Radcliffe pulled a cunning move quick enough to fool the announcer. With the opposition focused on the strong runners on either side of him, Radcliffe sniped around the base of the ruck, scoring just at the line. Tighe would kick another conversion, making the score 17–8.

The score would remain 17–8 at halftime, the game’s point differential of +9 for UBC was not yet enough to win the series.

The game was physical from start to finish, with both teams playing with ferocity.
The game was physical from start to finish, with both teams playing with ferocity. Salomon Micko Benrimoh

After some try-line defense from the T-Birds, scoring would resume in the second half. The third UBC try saw the T-Birds work their way up the field aided by a dominant scrum drawing a penalty on a Bears feed just outside the Berkeley 22-metre line.

The try would come from another dominant Thunderbird scrummage. On a scrum outside the Bear’s five-metre line, the T-Birds scrum would push their opposition into the try-zone and would have scored a pushover try if not for the referee awarding a penalty try instead. The penalty try would add an automatic 7 points for a score of 24–8, putting UBC up by a single point in the series.

Salomon Micko Benrimoh

Looking to put some distance on their opposition, the T-Birds would score a final try. A well-placed Thunderbird penalty kick would find touch on the Bear’s five-metre line. The T-Birds would make three attempts at the try-line after winning their line-out and the third time was the charm. The conversion was good bringing the score to 31–8 for UBC.

The Bears needed at least two plays to make up their eight-point deficit in the series but wouldn’t find another point. The Thunderbirds would win the game 31–8 and the series 52–44.

The T-Birds try to break past the Bears’ defence.
The T-Birds try to break past the Bears’ defence. Salomon Micko Benrimoh

When asked post-game about the mindset going into the second match down 15 points, captain Michael Smith stressed the importance of playing the long game. “We always have to play it as an aggregate. ... As soon as the game ended we knew there was another full 80 [minutes] to be played.”

He talked further of the team’s mindset going into the second game at home. “We kind of have like a second half mentality with our team, especially playing in a men’s league where we can pace teams in the second-half and this was our second half of that.”

The Thunderbirds will next host rivals the University of Victoria Vikes in the second leg of the Wightman Boot/Legends Cup on March 14.

UBC captain Micheal Smith with the ball during Sunday’s game.
UBC captain Micheal Smith with the ball during Sunday’s game. Salomon Micko Benrimoh