Cal heads to Utah looking to get back on track

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After its reserves dropped the ball last weekend, the Cal rugby team will turn back to its top side to get a new winning streak going.

The Bears will head out to Salt Lake City, Utah, taking on the Utes on Saturday at noon.

“There’s some debate about who the top side is at a couple positions, but we’ll be putting out the best team available,” said coach Jack Clark.

Cal is coming off its first loss since 2009, having fumbled a match to Cal Poly last Saturday. The squad will have an opportunity to exorcise some frustration this weekend, playing against a top tier team in Rio Tinto stadium, the site of the Bears’ national championship win in 2011.

While most of the top side that will be playing Saturday didn’t see any action against last weekend, those players are coming off a 13-12 come-from-behind win over British Colombia two weeks ago — a game that was plagued by mental errors and mistakes.

“We’ve got to get to a point where we’re using our possessions more intelligently,” Clark said. “You’ve got about two alligator, three alligator to make a decision sometimes, and that’s really putting a bit of pressure on us as an inexperienced team.”

For the first time in 2012, Cal wasn’t able to solely rely on its physical superiority to defeat an opponent, as the Thunderbirds matched Cal’s speed and athleticism. British Colombia even pushed the Bears around in the scrums, exposing their youth and inexperience. While Utah might not quite stack up as well, the Bears could be in for another tight match if they don’t clean up their play.

“We were in situations that we weren’t even under a lot of pressure from them, and we still made mistakes,” said fullback Jake Anderson. “We just need to limit our error count and stay in our systems.”

Playing at an elevation could provide another obstacle for the Bears. Conditioning was a major concern for the squad earlier in the season, and running at 4,450 feet could re-expose that issue. However, this weekend’s squad has had a full two weeks off, giving the players a chance to shore up their fitness.

“We run enough and train enough to not have to worry about a little thing like elevation,” hooker Jake Wrobel said.

These squads faced off twice in 2011, the first coming in the National Collegiate Championship semifinals. The Bears dominated, cruising to a 62-14 win.

The second meeting came a month later in the Collegiate 7’s tournament, where Utah found revenge and ended Cal’s season with a 21-5 win.

And with Cal just having its 63-game win streak snapped, the Bears likely won’t need any additional motivation this weekend.

“We definitely need to make a statement,” said fullback Jake Anderson. “A loss is never good, especially around here. It’s important to go out and show that that’s not what our team is about this year.”