Cal men’s rugby battles Stanford for Scrum Axe

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The Cal rugby team (6-0, 1-0 PAC Rugby Conference) has been nothing short of an unstoppable force in its 2014 campaign. The undefeated Bears will look for their 18th straight win against Stanford (1-3, 1-0 Pacific Western Rugby Conference) at Steuber Rugby Stadium on Thursday in their annual battle for the Scrum Axe.

It is becoming more difficult with each passing week to think of a team that could stop the Bears on their current six-game tear. This game looks no different. The Cardinal are fresh off a loss to Oregon State and look like they will be yet another unfortunate program caught in the wake of coach Jack Clark’s juggernaut.

“We’ve been possessing the ball really well to this point in the season,” Clark said. “The guys have been really aggressive at the point of possession, and we’ve been able to really take control of games. It really is a testament to our offense’s ability to hold on to the ball.”

Cal’s offense has been as prolific as any in the history of the program, dropping more than 100 points in two consecutive games and scoring a total of 452 points through six games, including 22 unanswered scores against Oregon State last week. This high-powered attack puts up an average of 75.3 points per game — about 1.4 points per minute — and has buried every opposing team thus far with impressive efficiency and relentless ferocity.

But the tremendous confidence the Bears will bring to Palo Alto may be detrimental to the perfection they have encountered this season. Although unlikely, the Cardinal will look to exploit the inexperience of younger players starting for Cal. Six underclassmen will be lined up against the Stanford squad to start the match.

“I don’t think overconfidence will be an issue at all,” Clark said. “As for some of our younger guys, they are all really good players, and I think they really relish having an opportunity to contribute to this team and helping us win. We are trying some new combinations, but I think it will be just another day at the office.”

The Cardinal cannot afford any mistakes if they are going to win on their home turf. Their offense has been mediocre at best thus far, averaging only 19.5 points per game. Stanford will need to find a way to score fast and often — something that no opponent has been able to accomplish this year against Cal’s overpowering defensive unit. The Bears’ defense has allowed a total of 13 points this season.

Stanford’s defense has not fared well through its first four games of the season. The Cardinal are giving up an average of 22 points per game. In other words, the Cardinal need nothing short of a miracle to contend with a far superior Bears unit.

“We’re really looking to hold onto the ball, like we’ve been doing, and play the way we have played up to this point.” Clark said. “I don’t think we’ve really been challenged defensively yet — except maybe for UCLA. I’m looking ahead to the UBC.”

Although this match could be about as statistically lopsided as it gets, both sides will look to pay tribute to this time-honored tradition — the oldest competition in the storied rivalry between Stanford and Cal.

Christian Legg covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].