Bears come up short in final match against St. Mary’s

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MORAGA, Calif. — The Saint Mary’s rugby team just wanted it more.

Playing to maintain their top spot in the Pacific Conference of the College Premier Division, the Gaels managed to overcome two second-half deficits on Sunday to grind out a 20-18 win over Cal (15-2). It was the first time Saint Mary’s beat the Bears since 1990. It also marks the first time since 2009 that Cal has lost twice in the same 15-player season.

“They played a hell of a game and they’re a great team this year,” said Cal junior Seamus Kelly. “A few unfortunate mistakes at really inopportune times really hurt us there.”

Moments before halftime, Cal’s Brendan Daly intercepted a pass and sprinted 60 meters to the left corner for a try, breaking the game open and giving his squad a 15-5 halftime cushion. That lead looked to be a safe one, as the game had featured little offense in the first 40 minutes of play.

But the Gaels (10-2) would come out of the second half as the aggressor. Saint Mary’s continued to dominate the scrums, and Cal started to beat itself by turning the ball over — a common theme for the young and inexperienced 2012 team. The Bears had numerous chances to really take control of the game, but a plethora of ball handling errors, forced passes and mental mistakes kept Saint Mary’s alive.

“We forced a couple of passes when we were behind them, and it relieved a lot of pressure off them,” said coach Jack Clark. “We just got too loose with the ball.”

The Gaels took their opening possession of the second half straight into Cal’s zone. The Bears initially held tough, keeping Saint Mary’s out of the try zone despite a series of close attempts. The Gaels then reversed the ball to the weak side, and wing Cooper Mallony pounded it into the corner of the try zone, cutting Cal’s lead to 15-12.

The Bears have struggled with teams with big front lines, and Sunday proved no exception. Cal continued to struggle to deal with the Gael forwards and found themselves on the wrong side of a 17-15 scoreline with 20 minutes left.

“They got after us more, and we didn’t have a chance to put pressure on their backs,” Kelly said “They’ve got really good forwards, and they took that platform away from us.”

The Bears immediately responded, drawing a penalty deep in Saint Mary’s territory. Fullback Jake Anderson put a penalty kick straight through the uprights, reclaiming the lead 18-17 with just over 10 minutes to play.

But Saint Mary’s would not be denied. The Gaels used their size and strength up front to keep the pressure on the Bears. The squad missed two late kicks, but flyhalf Augie Heath found the uprights on his squad’s third attempt in three minutes, nailing a 30-meter penalty kick from deep left to put his team up for good at 20-18.

“We played hard,” Clark said. “We just turned over a little too much ball. We had a chance to win, no doubt about it, but we just weren’t good enough.”

The game marked the official end of the 15-player portion of Cal’s season, one that might be considered disappointing by the team’s own standards; still, it was a reasonable finish considering the talent the Bears lost from 2011. The team will have to sit with the bitter taste in their mouths until they play in the national sevens tournament in June.

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  • guest

    @Pixilicious:disqus …
    What JC has done is win 9 out of the last 10 national collegiate championship. Pretty good answer to what have you done for us lately.

  • Pixilicious

    What’ve you done for us lately, Jackie boy? Go Clark, and take Tedford with ya, ya bum.

  • Go Bears

    @16th man, what are they going to do next year? Stay independent? 

    • 16th Man

      I don’t know the future of the Premier Division, Go Bears. I don’t have an “in” with the program, but I’ve heard some interesting rumors/thoughts/ideas that there could be a total realignment if it even exists next year. College Rugby is getting better and better, and Cal is one of the reasons that is the case. Some people criticize the Bears because they “beat up” so many teams. But Cal’s excellence has actually been a good thing for the sport. What Cal has done is it has forced other teams to look at themselves in the mirror and decide if they really want to play the game at Cal’s level, or just wear the jerseys and party after the games. Many teams have upped their programs. St. Mary’s plays overseas and has a former Cal player coaching them, Dartmouth plays overseas on a “spring tour”, Cal has played the University of British Columbia annually for decades, and I know other programs are doing things to elevate their level of play.  You often hear competitors talk about how Cal is the standard by which they measure themselves, and you see more and more teams adding players from overseas to their rosters to strengthen their programs. I think College Rugby is really on it’s way up, and if the Premier Division does change or even disappear, whatever happens will be good for the sport, and you can be sure Coach Clark and the Bears will be a major part of the evolution. 

  • 16th Man

    There is no shame in losing to St. Mary’s. Their team is really good this year, and the Bears are unusually prone to offensive mistakes due to youth. Yeah, losing two times is disappointing, and it’s not like Cal to lose two in a season. But the program is solid, has dignity and class, represents the university well, and all those young players will be back next year with more experience. I’m not worried about the 15s. I am, however, wondering how the 7s will do in June. That’s been a more challenging problem recently. Question for the Daily Cal… come every rugby article for the last several weeks has only had archive pictures from the UBC game? How about actually providing pix from the game that is being written about? Go Bears!

  • Go Bears

    “Might be considered disappointing”??? If not being eligible for playoffs and losing 2 games to California teams isn’t disappointing I dont know what is.

    The big question is what are we going to do next season? Join a league or just continue to play games that dont really count?