Bears look to shore up play against UCLA

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The Cal rugby team needs to get back on track.

After three highly contested matches with mostly subpar play, the squad will head down to Los Angeles on Saturday to square off with UCLA at 1 p.m.

The Bears faced the Bruins earlier this year at the Pac-12 tournament hosted by UCLA in January. In just 40 minutes of tournament play, Cal jumped all over its opponent, cruising to a quick 58-0 win. A banged-up UCLA squad couldn’t handle Cal’s superior physicality and athleticism and failed to get any sort of sustained forward momentum.

The Bears feel as though the previous match up was one of their stronger performances this year, and will be looking to get back to that high level of play. Assuming they do, a regular season match, which lasts twice as long, likely won’t be any kinder to the Bruins.

“I thought we were playing pretty well at the beginning of the year, especially for how young the team is, but lately our discipline has let us down,” said Danny Barrett. “We’re going to pick it back up here pretty soon.”

For Cal, beating up on a sacrificial lamb might be just what the team needs. The last three weeks have produced a pair of one-point come-from-behind wins and the squad’s first loss since 2009. With a rematch against rival British Colombia looming on the near horizon, Cal needs a chance to cool down a bit.

For seniors Connor Ring and Barrett, this stretch of games has been unprecedented in their time at Cal — which has included three national championship appearances and two undefeated seasons.

“It’s never happened back to back like that,” Ring said. “We’ve had a couple close games throughout the years, but never like this.”

Coach Jack Clark also finds himself in a unique position. Used to watching his teams overachieve and dominate, his 2012 squad has yet to really develop into the rugby force it should be.

The Bears are definitely young, but he’s not buying it as an excuse.

“Until this team is at their potential, I’m not going to be too happy,” Clark said. “I appreciate that we’re an inexperienced team, but we have to play to our potential, and we’re not there yet.”

The Bears are still 11-1, but hidden in the team’s record is its sloppy play riddled with mental lapses and lackluster physicality. Cal’s weaknesses have been exposed for three straight weeks, and the team needs to respond with a tough showing this weekend.

“I don’t know that these games would’ve been so close if we were playing to our potential,” Clark said. “I’m not going to find any silver lining in the fact that close games help you to develop. If you’re making games close because you’re not playing as well as you’re capable of, maybe that’s not such a great sign.”