This is British Columbia’s chance.
On Sunday, the Cal rugby team will head up north to square off with the Thunderbirds at noon in Vancouver for the second leg of the World Cup Series.
The Bears will carry a one-point cushion into the match at Thunderbird Stadium from their 13-12 win back in February, and the squad will be looking to hold on to the overall point differential to take the series for the sixth straight year.
“We were really excited to win that game at the end, but I don’t think we can leave it to the end this time,” said coach Jack Clark.
Cal has rarely been as vulnerable as it is this year.
Though the squad is 13-1, the Bears — plagued by inconsistent play and mental mistakes — haven’t looked like a traditional Cal rugby team.
“I think it would be an unbelievable accomplishment for this team as inexperienced as we are to win that cup,” Clark said.
In the first matchup against the Thunderbirds, Cal almost beat itself with a plethora of dropped balls and miscues, which they will have to clean up this weekend.
“Our unforced error count was somewhere in the 40s, and that’s really ridiculous,” said junior Seamus Kelly. “We have to play cleaner.”
The weather might not help that issue. While the Bears dodged a storm last weekend against UC Davis, the squad might not be so lucky up north, where wintery conditions might meet them.
And a blizzard is just what UBC wants. The Thunderbirds were able to effectively disrupt Cal’s offense by dominating the Bears’ forwards, mucking up the flow of the game and turning it into a sloppy and physical struggle. Heavy rain would only help the Thunderbirds play their style in order to come away with a win.
“They make a mess of it and slow your ball down a lot,” said senior Connor Ring. “It’s hard to play quickly against them.”
Cal knows that it needs to play its cleanest and most efficient match of the year in order to bring the trophy back in the States. The Bears are going to need to take care of the ball and be efficient with their limited possessions — something the squad has yet to prove it can do.
And the Thunderbirds are well- aware of that, and know that overcoming a one-point deficit against a young and inexperienced Cal team is the best shot they’ve had in a long time — and might be the best chance they’ll have for some time to come.
But for Cal, this might as well be their postseason, at least for 15-player segment of the season. After withdrawing from the Premier Division back in December, the Bears will not be competing for a 15s national championship and instead will look forward to the national 7-man tournament in June.
So as far as 15s go, this is it for Cal — and for the Thunderbirds. This match is the season.
“In a way, it’s one of the things that we can win,” Kelly said. “It’s always really important, but with the absence of the postseason this year it just becomes that much more important.”