Cal’s rugby team is the defending national champion in collegiate rugby. The keyword here __ national. For years, the team has dominated opponents across the country, but its toughest challenge actually lies across the border in Canada, at the University of British Columbia.
The Thunderbirds are the only team that seems to have had the Bears’ number in recent memory, and this season is no exception. Despite a ferocious comeback attempt two weeks ago, Cal took its first loss of the 15s season, 28-17, in the first game of a home-and-away series dubbed the “World Cup.”
While the loss surely still stings for the Bears, the team can dwell on the past no longer, as a roster composed of mainly freshmen and sophomores prepares for what should be a less competitive match against Santa Rosa Junior College.
With an extended break lasting more than a week, the Bears should be well rested and fully prepared to take on Santa Rosa at home Wednesday night.
“To tell the truth, the guys were pretty banged up after the loss last Saturday,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “We took a day off, which is pretty rare for us, but since then we have been focused on preparing for tomorrow’s game.”
On Wednesday, Cal will look to prove that it is still the dominant force in the nation, as the loss against UBC may give hope to other strong competitors. Saint Mary’s, Life University and BYU have all been vying to claim the top spot in the country, and BYU definitely has a chip on its shoulder after a loss to the Bears in last year’s title game.
In previous outings for the frosh-soph squad, the Bears have been led by junior wing Will Fuller, freshman hooker Sid Holland and sophomore flyhalf Elliot Webb, and all three players will be looked at to step up for the Bears once again.
Against Cal Maritime in early February, Fuller utilized his perfect combination of size and speed on the outside position to score a game-high four tries. The threat that Fuller poses on the wing should be able to draw out the Santa Rosa defense on several occasions, allowing other attackers to find extra space to score tries.
This spring, Holland has emerged as a talented hooker with the ability to both score and win possession battles in the scrum. Against Santa Rosa, he will be counted upon to stay tough in thick of the scrum and prevent the opposition from taking the ball and going on the attack.
Perhaps the frosh-soph player with the most potential is Webb, who will soon face the task of filling the huge void left at flyhalf by his brother Russell, arguably the best flyhalf in the nation. In addition to his precision on conversion kicks from various distances, it is evident that Webb has been taking tips from his brother on how to maintain fluid communication between the front and back lines of his team.
“We’re getting better, we’re improving,” Clark said. “The last time out, the team put in a ton of effort and commitment was high, so I was pretty happy all the way around, and we are ready for tomorrow’s game.”
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].