In a college rugby season where so many match results are guaranteed, the University of British Columbia is one of very few schools on the regular season slate that truly competes with Cal. The Bears lost in dramatic fashion to the Thunderbirds at home just more than a month ago, but two weeks removed from a huge road win over Saint Mary’s, Cal is hoping to make a string of its good play and split the “World Cup” Series when it travels to Vancouver on Sunday. It is one of the few times in the regular season that anything can happen to the Bears. In other words, Cal basketball isn’t the only team participating in a bit of march madness this weekend.
The Bears, who have won 14 of the past 18 series, lost by five points in the home leg of this series on Feb. 6, need to win by six points this weekend to take back the Cup title on point aggregate. That first loss was the only time this season the Bears were held without a try, the second time in a row they failed to do so against the Thunderbirds at home.
“When it gets down to the end, if we have to make some decisions about going for (the six points), we’ll make those decisions then,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “But first you have to play 75 minutes of rugby to find out if you’re in that situation.”
Cal won’t soon forget the last few minutes of that last home match. Down by five, so a try would tie and a conversion after would win it, the Bears had the ball essentially on the try line with two minutes remaining. The team tried to force the issue by using their big front line players to move up through the middle, ignoring their greatest strength, a bevy of shifty and nimble smaller players on the outside.
Ignoring their biggest strength wasn’t only an issue in the last minutes. The Bears wasted too many possessions having the ball stripped from front line players who tried again and again to go straight up the middle without gaining much yardage at all. Cal seemed to stumble upon a better offensive strategy against good defenses when they played Saint Mary’s. The offense found success using star senior Russell Webb’s kicking to give them line-outs in enemy position, consistently winning those line-outs with their strong front-line and letting Webb bend the defense to give other players such as Evan Coleman and Harry Adolphus on the outside room to score when close to the try line.
Matches against Santa Clara and Oregon State that were previously scheduled over the last week were postponed and cancelled, respectively, so the Bears are well-rested for what may be the first time in a busy and injury-filled season.
“There’s an energy whenever you travel in a big game like this,” said senior Anthony Salaber. “There are two types of people. There are people that will cower into that energy, and people who will feed off it. I don’t know a guy on this team who will cower.”
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].