The Cal men’s rugby team has been sailing smoothly all spring. The calm waters of their regular season schedule have landed the Bears with a nearly perfect record, but just as they are about to enter into the postseason, a storm in the form of St. Mary’s threatens to jostle their boat.
This Saturday afternoon, Cal (19-1, 6-0 PAC) will be travelling to St. Mary’s (17-0, 4-0 California) in its final regular-season matchup against the top-ranked team in the country. The Bears will be hoping to deliver the first blow to the Gaels’ untarnished record — and, in the process, to potentially shake up the postseason rankings.
“From a technical standpoint, our focus has to be really high,” said fifth-year No. 8 Thomas Robles. “St. Mary’s is always year in and year our a good opponent to play. And for it to be our last regular-season game is a good test as we move into the postseason.”
In the last meeting between the two teams, in spring 2017, the Bears fell to the Gaels, 27-24, at Witter Rugby Field. In that game, Cal had a 9-point lead going into halftime, but the tram let it slip in the second half, scoring just one try in the latter 40 minutes of the game.
“I think what we take away from that is that the game is either going to be won by a little or lost by a little,” Robles said. “Our accuracy and our passing is going to have to be really high, and we are going to have to make a lot of one-on-one tackles and play a tough physical game.”
Two years ago, however, the story was entirely different. In 2016, the Bears dominated on the Gaels’ home field, 27-14. Although that win took place two years ago, there are countless Cal players on the current roster who were there for that win — including Robles.
The Bears will enter this game after a break from matches of exactly two weeks, which has allowed them to focus on some of the more minute facets of their game.
“We were able to get back to some of the more fundamental drills that we haven’t been able to take part in because of having so many games throughout the season,” Robles said.
In this final outing, the Bears will likely put out an extremely strong and experienced roster. While head coach Jack Clark has played around with his lineups for much of the season, he’ll be relying on some of his more experienced players to carry the weight in this matchup. That lineup will most likely include Robles, along with fellow fifth-years prop Kevin Sullivan, flyhalf Jamie Howells and hooker Wade Ogburn.
While the Gaels have the advantage of a current higher national ranking, the Bears have history on their side. Cal has won 17 of its last 20 meetings against St. Mary’s — and the Bears have the capability to tip the scales in their favor once again.
“They are our Bay Area rivals, which brings something special to the game as well,” Robles said. “We like that we can gave such great competition in such close proximity to our campus.”
Sophie Goethals covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected]