Reserves to get chance to earn starting spot

Carli Baker/Staff
The Cal rugby team will play its final 15-player match of the season against St. Mary's on Sunday.

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Winning all the time can’t be as easy as the Cal rugby team makes it seem.

On Saturday, the Bears will head down to San Luis Obispo, Calif., to take on Cal Poly  in a match that might as well already be over. All the squad has to do is physically put itself onto the Cal Poly Sports Complex at 2 p.m. and the rest should pretty much take care of itself.

“I don’t really know how they stack up,” said coach Jack Clark. “Traditionally they’ve been a pretty good team, and I haven’t seen them play, so I don’t know a whole lot about them. I’m sure they’ll have a half dozen or so really good rugby players.”

Last year, Cal met up with the Mustangs in the opening round of the national championship tournament, and the Bears cruised to a 79-26 win. Two years earlier they met in the quarterfinals, as Cal marched its way to a 76-10 score.

Barring a cataclysmic collapse, it should be more of the same on Saturday in Southern California. And while the contest on the field might not be that tough for Cal, getting pumped up to play must be.

“We’re just going to have to go for it, and play our game again,” said senior Ahmed Chehade. “You can’t just be happy with the UBC win and then have an upset at Cal Poly. We’ve got to still go to work.”

The Bears are also coming off an emotional late-game comeback win this past Saturday over British Columbia, arguably the best team they’ll play in 2012.

“It gets pretty hard because you have to shift to attack mode against this Cal Poly team, because they won’t be as experienced as UBC,” said sophomore Max Shaulis. “It’s definitely going to be challenging to refocus our game.”

However, the fact that none of the 15 starters that took down the Thunderbirds last weekend will be asked for a repeat performance should help eliminate any possible hangover.

Instead, Cal’s reserves will be the ones suited up, and every player will be looking to earn a spot on Cal’s top side. And with a roster of 59 players jousting for a crack at the starting lineup, game opportunities don’t come around too often.

“We have a lot of competition at a several positions, especially coming off a performance with a lot of mistakes,” Clark said. “I think the team expects the coaching staff to create a merit based pathway to pick our best team.”

Cal is currently riding on a 63-game win streak but hasn’t performed up to the usual standards of its own history — plagued by sloppy and penalty prone play. If there was ever a time for a reserve to break into the top 15, it’s now — which should provide plenty of motivation.