The Cal rugby team has entered every contest this season as the heavy-handed favorite – until this weekend.
The last time the Bears lost an official collegiate competition – excluding their defeat in a sevens tournament last year – was to BYU in the national title game two years ago, where they fell, 25-22.
If Cal coach Jack Clark’s comments are any indication, then this year’s championship bout against the Cougars at Rio Tinto Stadium is a tall order.
“I think this is the best BYU team I’ve seen,” Clark said.
History has been on the Bears’ side, with Cal beating the Cougars in four of the last five years to claim the crown. Last season, Clark’s squad prevailed in a tight 19-7 game.
This year, however, the team enters Saturday’s 6 p.m. (PT) contest in Sandy, Utah, feeling like the underdog.
“I think us more than BYU, we have something to prove,” co-captain Derek Asbun said. “We’ve had something to prove this whole season, missing a couple key players, finding ourselves as a team. This is where we prove it or we don’t.”
The Cougars, meanwhile, return a number of key pieces from their recent title game participants. BYU boasts the CPD’s top overall scorer in All-American scrumhalf Shaun Davies, as well as top try-scorer, No. 8 Ryan Roundy.
The Cougars have the most complete lineup that Cal has seen and are dangerous at every position, which requires that the Bears come out strong early in the match.
“If we come in flatfooted, they’re going to blow us out of the park,” senior inside center Sean Gallinger said.
In addition to battling BYU itself, the Bears will also have to contend with a hostile crowd.
For the first time, the title game will be played in Utah. Cal has grown accustomed to playing the championship match in its own backyard at Stanford, but will take on the Cougars about 30 miles from BYU’s home field in Provo.
However, the Bears will take the pitch with the most momentum they have had all season following last Saturday’s 62-14 win over Utah in the national semifinals.
The convincing victory was enough for RugbyMag.com – which had consistently dubbed the Cougars the best in the land – to slot Cal ahead of BYU in its rankings.
Up until last weekend, when things seemed to come together for Cal, Clark thought being competitive against the Cougars “could’ve been a bridge too far.”
That’s not the case anymore.
“It’s a game that if we get it right,” Clark said, “we can win, and I think the boys know that.”
Christina Jones covers rugby.