Bears to finally be tested as they host World Cup

The Cal rugby team has cruised to a 9-0 record in 2012, outscoring its opponents 650-23 in matches that were pretty much decided before they even began.

But the Bears are about to face one of their toughest tests of the last couple years, putting their 62-game winning streak on the line.

Cal will travel to Treasure Island to “host” the University of British Columbia Saturday in the first leg of the annual Word Cup series between the two squads. The match is set to kick off at 3 p.m. at the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club.

“To come down and beat California, as a coach it’s my biggest goal,” UBC coach Spence McTavish said. “This series has faced the test of time and is probably the highlight of the season.”

The competition between the two teams dates back to 1921, with the winner of the home-and-home series taking a trophy sponsored by the since-dissolved Vancouver World newspaper. Cal has had its way with the series in recent years, taking 12 of the last 15 series, including the past five.

But the Bears are young and inexperienced, returning less than half of last year’s World Cup squad.

“We’re as vulnerable this year as we’ve been in a decade,” coach Jack Clark said. “That just makes the challenge even steeper, but we’re in this for challenges.”

Last year when the Thunderbirds made the trip down to the Bay Area, Cal had to overcome a 13-point deficit in sloppy conditions, ultimately grinding out a 21-13 win in the rain. Things likely won’t be any easier this time around.

“We approach the game the same every time,” junior Brendan Daly said. “It’s a very good opponent who always puts out a good team against us. It’s always going to be a really tight game.”

Cal will have the benefit of coming off a bye week. Following a strong but penalty-plagued weekend at Arizona, the Bears utilized their weekend off to tighten up their defense and shore up their conditioning.

Now, the Bears are feeling as physically well as they have in 2012.

“We had a tough week down in Arizona, and a lot of guys got a lot of minutes, so it gives some guys some extra rest before we go into this big competition with UBC,” senior Danny Barrett said.

Still, Cal has a major task at hand, and will need to play some of its best rugby of the year in order to put itself in a position to win. The Bears have yet to be really pushed by an opponent, and it remains to be seen how the young squad will respond to adversity.

It will likely be apparent after this weekend.

“I don’t think our team runs on confidence. We’re kind of the underdog, and that suits us,” Clark said. “We go into this game thinking that we’re going to have to play our best game of the year to have a chance to win. I don’t think we always believe we’re going to win.”