History of University of California Varsity Rugby
Men's rugby, far and away the most successful of the 29 varsity sports competing under the authority of Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, is the oldest intercollegiate sport at the University of California.
Cal Varsity Rugby spans 131 years, during which time the Golden Bears, a non-scholarship team, have tested themselves at the highest levels to earn international honors along with 26 of the 34 collegiate national championships played in the United States since 1980.
Under the closely held stewardship of only six head coaches throughout its existence, Cal Rugby has developed many of the finest players the sport has to offer, including 126 All-Americans, 43 players who have made 572 combined appearances on the United States National Team, six Olympians as well as five players who have earned their "Blues" at Oxford.
The success of rugby at Berkeley has hinged on tremendous support from alumni, administration, students, parents and sponsors who have ensured a permanent campus home for Cal Varsity Rugby in the lush environs of Witter Rugby Field and the Doc Hudson Fieldhouse, perched above Memorial Stadium in beautiful Strawberry Canyon.
Today's Cal team continues a legacy that began in 1882, when rugby became the university's first sport played against an outside opponent. The Bears played four games that first year, compiling a 2-1-1 record.
Three years later, in 1885, the rules of the game shifted to those of American football, but in 1906 rugby returned as the school's main fall sport after the administration decided that football was becoming too dangerous. Over the next eight years Cal Rugby posted a 78-21-10 record under the direction of coaches Oscar Taylor and James G. Schaffer.
The year 1914 marked a temporary end to collegiate competition due to the First World War and the return of football as the university's primary fall sport. Rugby did not return to campus until 1931.
During the time athletes could not play for the university, Cal's aspiring ruggers found another arena for competition at the Olympics. The United States Rugby team brought home gold medals from both the 1920 and 1924 Olympic Games. California students Charlie Tilden, Matt Hazeltine, Charles "Red" Meehan, George Dixon, C. "Babe" Slater and Ed "Mush" Graff were among the Americans who stunned their European opponents and audiences with their "aggressive tackling and superb punting" according to a French newspaper of the day.
Graff returned to his alma mater in 1931 to serve as head coach of the Bears until 1937. It was during the Graff coaching era that Cal began competing for the World Cup. Named for the World newspaper of Vancouver, the World Cup became a symbol of the ongoing competition between the University of California and the University of British Columbia, much as the legendary Scrum Axe goes to the victor each year in the annual Cal-Stanford rugby match, a tradition that itself goes back over 100 years.
In 1938, a former Cal student from New Zealand, Miles "Doc" Hudson, took over for Graff and directed the Bears program for 37 years. Doc's teams posted an impressive won/loss record of 339-84-23.
The decade of the '50s saw the Bears compete against the New Zealand All Blacks, the Australia Wallabies and the Oxford-Cambridge combined team. Some believe that Coach Hudson's 1965 group -- whose 5-2-2 tour of Australia and New Zealand included a 25-14 win over Auckland University and an 8-8 draw with Queensland -- is one of the best Cal rugby teams ever assembled. Another strong candidate for best Cal side ever is the 1971 team, which went 5-4 on its six-week tour Down Under, including an 11-9 victory over Queensland University at Ballymore and a 20-17 win against ACT.
When Hudson eventually retired in 1975, former Cal rugger and captain of the 1971 touring team Ned Anderson assumed the reins of the program. When the sport started a national collegiate championship in 1980, Anderson's Cal side was the first to walk away with the national trophy. The Bears went on to win four consecutive national championships.
In 1984 one of Anderson's assistants, former player Jack Clark, succeeded him as the sixth head coach in team history. Coach Clark took the helm after a successful football and rugby career at Cal that was followed by post-collegiate rugby campaigns on the USA National Team. Clark's play as a United States Eagle earned him a spot on the World XV team that was invited to play the Welsh National Team during its centennial celebration in Cardiff, Wales, in 1980.
Jack Clark immediately took Cal back to the top of collegiate rugby after a one-year hiatus in 1984. The Golden Bears were once again crowned national champions in 1985 and '86.
The Bears' current era of success under Clark has included 22 national titles (including 20 of the last 25), an impressive combined record of 34-1 against rugby powerhouses Army, Navy and Air Force in the 15-a-side game; 14 of the last 17 "World Cup" series including seven in a row vs. University of British Columbia; a domestic winning streak of 98 games from 1990-96 and a 70-game tear that lasted until 2003; a winning streak over U.S. collegiate competition that lasted 115 matches between April 2004 and May 2009; and a streak in 15s of 63 straight matches that ran from opening day in 2010 through Feb. 18, 2012.
Clark has also served as head coach for the Collegiate All-America team, from 1985-92; head coach of the USA National Team, from 1993-99; and general manager for the national team, from 1993-2003. He exited his 30th season as head coach as the winningest coach in Cal Rugby history with a 559-71-5 (.880) record in 15s.
The growth of Rugby Sevens, the format in which the sport returns to the Summer Olympics in 2016, has spurred further development in a segment of the game historically played in the offseason and as a pathway to the 15s national team. Although Cal has a long line of former players who have played for the U.S. National Sevens Team, its history of playing collegiate sevens is much shorter.
Since 2010 at the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s on NBC, the Bears have compiled a 13-3 record, with a runnerup finish in 2010, a quarterfinal showing in 2011 and a bronze medal in 2012. Cal's all-time record in Sevens stands at 39-11 (.780).
The future of Cal rugby relies on today's student-athletes together with their supporters and the continued support of all those who have played a part its illustrious history. Over the last 20 years, a loyal group of Cal Rugby alumni have in large part endowed the sport at Cal through a fundraising effort entitled "Cal Rugby Forever."
Results of this drive have included the construction of the Doc Hudson Fieldhouse, named after the legendary coach, the home of team offices and alumni functions.
A group of stakeholders also funded the construction of Witter Rugby Field, the home pitch for Bears that looks out onto San Francisco Bay. The field is named after the Witter family, 14 of whom -- fathers, sons, grandchildren, uncles and cousins -- have played rugby for the Golden Bears.
Last Update: May 6, 2013