Just one week after muzzling the Bruins, 41-0, in Los Angeles, the No. 4 Cal rugby team (17-2) will return to Witter Rugby Field to take on an unfamiliar foe in No. 8 Central Washington (14-0) in the Varsity Cup semifinals Saturday.
The Bears look like they have finally returned to form after losing two straight games to close the regular season. After injuries decimated coach Jack Clark’s starting roster toward the end of the year, a number of underclassmen have stepped in to contribute in Cal’s playoff run. Freshman Tomas Zerbino and sophomoresRussell Webb and Harry Adolphus all played key roles in completing the Bears’ season sweep of the Bruins.
“I don’t think that this is a matter of confidence; rather, we are reimagining ourselves and the way that we play in these big games,” Clark said. “We have done well accepting the reality of our situation regarding injuries and everything. Our focus needs to be on finding ways to win like we did against UCLA.”
Cal will be squaring off against a team that has quietly amassed an undefeated record in the 2014 season. Central Washington possesses one of the most balanced squads in the tournament. The Wildcats’ offense is having its way with teams this season, and their defense is equally as impressive.
“Central Washington is a very balanced and athletic side,” Clark said. “They have some big forwards and some really good guys in the backfield that are tough to tackle. We just don’t want to give up any long range tries like we did against St. Mary’s. Playing a dangerous team like that, it should be a tough game for us.”
The return of Seamus Kelly could not have been better timed for a struggling Bears attack. The All-American center’s hat trick last week set the tone for Cal’s postseason. But injuries continue to limit firepower on offense.
If the Bears want to move on to the championship game, they will need the presence of a staunch defense to slow down the Wildcats’ formidable unit. Cal’s defense is allowing only 13.6 points per game this season against some talented opposition. CWU may be in for a long day on Witter Rugby Field, where home field advantage is a real factor for the Bears.
Despite Cal’s struggles as of late, the Wildcats are still traveling to Strawberry Canyon, where the Bears have not lost a match this season. Central Washington will be playing a top-five squad with a capacity crowd at its back.
“Obviously, it doesn’t really matter — we are going to play hard regardless,” Clark said. “But we are happy to play this game at home, especially for our seniors. I want to see them win this game and move on to the championship. I think that will mean a lot.”
Christian Legg covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].