Fifteen years ago, the Cal rugby team took back the Scrum Axe and coach Jack Clark proclaimed, “Stanford is never getting it back.”
While that prediction has looked pretty valid for the past decade and a half, ensuring that Clark’s words hold true for another 15 years might not be quite so easy.
The Bears will look to bring the Scrum Axe back to Berkeley for the 16th straight time on Saturday, as they travel to Palo Alto for a 2 p.m. matchup with Stanford.
The recent matchups between the Cardinal (3-2) and the Bears (5-0) have been lopsided and uncompetitive — epitomized by a 99-0 Cal win in 2010 — but Stanford could be on the rise.
In his second year, head coach and former Cal rugger Matt Sherman has his squad out to a solid start, highlighted by a third-place finish two weeks ago at the UCLA Tournament.
“They have a really rich tradition in rugby at Stanford,” Clark said. “They have a lot of resources behind their program. When you start piecing those things together, there’s no reason for Stanford not to have one of the better teams in the country.”
The Bears, however, won that tournament and still look like the far superior team.
Saturday will be the 106th annual meeting between the teams — the 2001 forfeiture notwithstanding — and Cal will honor the tradition of the rivalry by playing its top squad, whose only other action this season came two weeks ago in a 58-0 win over UCLA.
“We didn’t have to back off them, and they’ve trained hard all week which is every bit as important (as playing),” Clark said. “Some of the younger guys need to play to get into game management mode, but that’s not the challenge for some of our best players.”
Instead, part of the challenge could be replace prop Jeremy Deterding, who sustained a minor injury in training this week. The senior is questionable for Saturday, thinning out an already inexperienced squad. Junior Lyall Davenport would likely start in his place.
“We have a lot of inexperienced guys, but we’re all expected to do the same things,” Deterding said. “We’re all playing together, so it just comes down to doing what we’re taught and putting it out on the field.”
Regardless, the Bears will look to improve upon a disappointing 74-0 win (if such a thing exists) over the Cardinal last year.
Cal got off to a quick and efficient start in the first half, logging eight tries for a 48-0 lead at the break. Things began to bog down in the second half, as theBears were plagued by numerous infractions and penalties — a trend that Cal will try to avoid this weekend.
“We definitely did get a little sloppy,” junior Seamus Kelly said. “You have to play a complete 80 minutes. It’s just about keeping focus for the whole game, and the guys that come in for the second half need to be dialed in and know what their job is.”
Following the Stanford match, Cal’s reserves will take on Sacramento State in Rancho Cordova, Calif., at 7:30 p.m.