Lack of traditional dominance makes for exciting, unexpected campaign for Bears

Cal Men's Rugby vs UBC
Carli Baker/File

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For true sports fans, Cal rugby hasn’t been the most interesting team to follow for much of the past couple decades.

There was little to ponder with this squad. It was implied that each game would result in a win, and each season would likely end in a national championship — or at least something close to it. Recaps could be written before the matches even started.

There is not much exciting about watching a team dominate the rest of its competition. It might be satisfying for the team’s fans, but it certainly doesn’t leave them with high blood pressure and a lack of fingernails.

By the standards the squad has set for itself with its history, most people would probably be disappointed with what Cal has done thus far in 2012. An 11-1 record isn’t bad by any measuring stick, but that slate has included two one-point wins and the team’s first loss since 2009.

Disappointment with this squad might be justified. The team is young and inexperienced and hasn’t been the dominating physical behemoth that Cal rugby is supposed to be. Teams aren’t backing down and have shown that the Bears can be pushed around.

But that isn’t the only unique aspect of this squad. Unlike its predecessors, this team is actually exciting to watch.

Nothing is certain with these Bears. They are beyond the halfway mark of the season, yet coach Jack Clark isn’t even sure who his 15 best players are. The postseason starts in two months, and Cal hasn’t even figured out a potential destination to shoot for.

For once, the Bears are vulnerable — and it’s making for great drama.

Saturday’s one-point win over Utah marked the third straight week that the Bears played a match decided by a last-minute score. Cal lost to Cal Poly in a match that had no business being close, and the team won two games it probably should have lost — over the Utes and British Columbia. In years past, there might be one match with an outcome that wasn’t expected — the first half of 2012 has featured three.

Fans and alumni alike might feel frustrated about watching the Bears fail to meet sky-high expectations. But frustration is the wrong sentiment for this squad — fascination and embracement seem more fitting.

Cal rugby has never had a season like this and might not ever have one again. The Bears’ roster is loaded with young talent, and this season’s growing pains are likely going to eventually develop into the usual domination associated with the program.

A year like this one might never come again.

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