Cal rugby’s undefeated record comes under threat against UBC, USC

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Every great story has an ending, and Cal rugby’s undefeated season is no exception. With a pair of solid teams headed to Berkeley this weekend, don’t be surprised if the team’s undefeated streak is pushed to the brink.

The Bears (12-0) will host their rivals from the north Saturday at Witter Field, welcoming British Columbia (15-3) for the first leg of the annual “World Series” before continuing against USC for a challenging doubleheader.

“We’ll put up our best team against UBC,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “And we’ll put the next best team against USC.”

Once again, the depth of Cal’s roster will be crucial in its attempt to compete against the two fronts.

The “World Series” has been an important rivalry throughout the years, but UBC’s decision to keep older players on its roster has hindered the Bears’ recent results, giving the Thunderbirds an advantage.

After a 48-17 win over Arizona, the Bears’ had the lowest scoring match of the season, the Thunderbirds will bring an even greater challenge to counter Cal’s electric offense. UBC is a strong defensive team, evidenced in its No. 2 ranking in the BC Rugby Men’s Premier League standings, including a league-leading +344 point differential.

“We have to be pretty efficient in order to stay in the game,” Clark said. “We’re likely to create some opportunities for ourselves, and we’re going to have to score.”

The Bears had problems completing the final pass and making the last move in recent games, best exemplified in its matchup against Utah Valley. It’s hard to criticize Cal for small mistakes when the scoreboard is lopsided as is, but the margin for error against UBC and USC is significantly lower than the team’s previous opponents.

Cal has been very good at keeping its opponent’s offense limited, as the Bears allow less than one try per game. That feat will be very difficult to duplicate against the Thunderbirds, but the Bears will hope to minimize the damage.

“The best way to do (good defense) is to not give them any balls than the ones they earn,” Clark said. “They’re going to earn enough; they’re gonna earn half the possessions, if not more, and what we can’t do is to give them more possessions because we’re loose with the ball.”

Clark will be a handful of players short of his ideal lineup, as injuries have recently started to mount up for Cal. Fifth year flyhalf Jamie Howells is currently unlikely to suit up this weekend, so fans can expect junior flyhalf/center Elliot Webb to take the responsibility of Cal’s conversion attempts.

The Cal faithful will also not get to see junior lock/flanker Ben Casey in action, as his injury against Arizona is expected to keep him on the sidelines for at least a month. Casey’s injury is fortunately far better than what Clark and the Bears feared.

“I’m happy of that because we feared we lost (Casey) for the season,” Clark said. “It’s good news he is only gone for a month — it’s crazy.”

With the challenge in place for Saturday’s doubleheader, the Bears will hope to preserve their undefeated season for a little while longer before stepping onto Witter Field again on Wednesday for a match against Santa Clara.

Can Sariöz covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the team initially worried Ben Casey’s injury would be similar to that of Robert Paylor’s. In fact, the team did not worry that Casey’s injury was as severe.

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