Cal rugby aims player development, roster depth against UBC

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After recording an upset win, an underdog’s odds in the rematch may swing in its favor. Unfortunately for Cal rugby, however, the odds still point toward UBC in the highly anticipated rematch in Vancouver.

With the decreasing importance of the “World Series” because of UBC’s decision to play older players, Cal head coach Jack Clark will use this second leg as an opportunity to give players who haven’t seen the field for extended minutes a run this weekend.

“We are not probably setting up the best team, but it’s going to be a great experience, and it’s gonna be really fun,” said freshman scrumhalf Thibault D’Auriol. “Whether we do well or not doesn’t really matter; we just look forward to the challenge.”

The Bears were in their strongest form of the season last weekend at Witter Field. Cal’s upset win over the Thunderbirds displayed the strength of the team, and this week will be important toward proving its depth.

Cal (15-0) will feature a mixture of old and young players on its reserve team against UBC, as seniors such as wing/fullback Jake Goena and flyhalf/center Matthew Coyle are expected to play next to some of the younger guys on the roster.

The matchup will be a big challenge for the Bears both in terms of physicality and tactical strategy. Playing older players is always a test, but Sunday’s weather might also affect the Bears’ fast-pace offense.

“It will be a challenge, but that’s what we are looking for,” Clark said. “These games have limited value, and what we know is we’ll be highly challenged in Vancouver, and that would be good; we want to be highly challenged.”

After suffering from a number of injuries, Cal faces problems in the second row, specifically at the lock position. Against Santa Clara, fifth-year lock/No. 8 had Louis Le Merle had to suit up with another fifth-year, flanker John Warnock, and the pair were forced to play out of position in lock to fill the roster spot.

“We have a depth problem in the second row, we’re going to have to get some guys back.” Clark said. “We got to get Big Ben back, we got to see if we can get Bixby back.”

The aim will be to prepare freshman lock Sam Golla and sophomore lock Josh Warnock in case injuries hold junior lock/flanker Ben Casey — who had a terrific season until he went down against Arizona — and junior lock Chase Bixby on the sidelines for extended periods of time.

Clark will have a great opportunity to see his reserves play against an elite program that has given the Bears trouble in the past. In the meantime, Cal’s primary players will have an extended break to prepare for next weekend’s Cal Invitational featuring Army, Claremont and UCLA at Witter Field for Homecoming Weekend.

“A lot of the players that will be playing (against UBC), they need that game badly, and we have competition for some of the starting positions and this is an opportunity for them to maybe overtake somebody and get a starting job,” Clark said. “It’s also important that we do develop the depth within the team so that we have more players with their hands up that are ready to play at the championship level.”

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

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