When the undefeated Cal rugby team takes on Oregon State at noon on Saturday afternoon, much of the team’s success will be based on the play of the man wearing the No. 9 jersey, the scrumhalf.
Just like a quarterback in football, the scrumhalf directs a team’s offense. By receiving the ball cleanly from a scrum and strategically passing the ball to the six remaining players behind him, he allows the offense to run smoothly. If the scrumhalf drops a pass, hesitates or fails to find the best option, an offense can stall.
“Their ability to direct traffic and be a playmaker and be accurate in their own skills, because they touch the ball so often, is paramount to being a good team,” said Cal coach Jack Clark. “It is hard to be a good team without No. 9 playing well.”
So that is why last Saturday afternoon, when the Bears (15-0 overall, 3-0 in the PAC Rugby Conference) defeated Arizona, 80-14, a glaring outcome of the game was the loss of junior Paul Bosco to a season-ending injury. Bosco, who is expected to make a full recovery, started in the scrumhalf position for the Bears in their toughest match of the season so far, a 28-18 win over the University of British Columbia on Feb. 16.
Stepping in to fill the void is sophomore Nicklas Boyer. Boyer, who just made his first start with the varsity squad in late February against UCLA, also started the Arizona match at the scrumhalf position. But once Bosco went down, Boyer became the team’s top player at the position.
“Paul is a big part of this team, and I knew that I have to step up and take his place now,” Boyer said. “At first, it was a lot for me to think about. I spent the night on Saturday thinking about that, because Penn State was ranked No. 7 nationally, and I knew I had to step up for them, so it was definitely a big challenge for me to rise up to.”
And as Boyer proved in the Bears’ 100-0 win over Penn State on Monday night, he is more than adequate for the job.
“He’s plenty talented, and I think everyone that knows Nick thinks that he is going to be a great player,” Clark said. “I thought he played really well against Penn State, and he’s got the capability to play really well right now. But he is going to be a really good player in a couple of years.”
Although he won’t be starting at scrumhalf this weekend against Oregon State (2-3 overall, 0-1 in the PAC Rugby Conference), in the Bears’ remaining matches against three high-level opponents — the UBC, Utah and St. Mary’s College — Boyer is slated to be the starter.
Clark and Boyer’s teammates are confident that he will do just fine.
“He proved he can come into a big game and succeed,” said Cal senior and captain Seamus Kelly. “I think he has the experience to be able to handle the challenge we have ahead. I think it will be a personal challenge for him, but knowing him and how he’s succeeded in the past, he’ll be fine with it.”
Stephen Hobbs covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]