For two seasons in a row, the University of British Columbia has played spoiler to the Cal rugby team’s attempts at perfect records.
After both “World Cup” series, however, the Bears have emerged on the wrong side of sweeps by powerful Thunderbird squads. Cal’s latest defeat came last Sunday, as a team composed solely of reserves was throttled 50-6 at UBC, giving the Bears their fourth straight loss against the only side that has given them true problems in recent years.
This Saturday, the Bears will head back on the road as they travel to Los Angeles for a doubleheader against UCLA and USC looking to overcome frustrations of the recent showdowns with UBC.
In order to stay undefeated in the PAC conference, Cal will need to figure out a way to bear with the disappointment of the sweep and play the quality of rugby it is has been known for.
“I haven’t really been addressing their spirits this week,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark, who is no stranger to tough situations as a rugby coach. “The team has a strong resolve, and I think they’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”
Leading this attempt at resurgence will be Cal’s experienced veterans, who know how to stabilize the team during rough patches of play. They will be taking on a Bruin side for the second time this year. In the first match at the Dennis Storer Classic earlier this season, the Bears completed a 26-0 shutout of UCLA.
Among this group of talented upperclassmen is the superstar fifth-year trio of centers Anthony Salaber and Patrick Barrientes along with flyhalf Russell Webb. With the group’s unmatched ability to provide backline support, Webb will be able to facilitate offensive play as he has done so well for years.
UCLA should not be underestimated, however, as the Bruins will look to create offensive opportunities attacking the huge hole left at fullback by emerging sophomore Troy Lockyear, who went down with a season-ending injury during the first game against UBC.
Cal will also be without experienced senior flanker Thomas Robles, whose ability to tackle and win the ball in open play will be missed.
“Yeah, obviously we’re gonna miss (Locklear) and (Robles) out there, but I think we’ll be fine with the lineup we play,” Clark said.
The Bears expect to play a lineup mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores against the Trojans, who only have one conference win so far this season.
Holding a crucial win over a skilled Arizona team, Cal’s frosh/soph side should be able to shut down the ailing Trojans to expand the team’s lead in the PAC conference as playoff season quickly approaches.
“We’ve been working on the same things all year,” Clark said. “(We) just have to look after our possessions and keep the error count as low as possible. We’re a solid team, but just sloppy with our possessions sometimes.”
With tough playoff matchups looming, Cal will need to polish its play up this weekend as it tries to make the most of a young roster that has already suffered some key losses.
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].