With 12 minutes remaining, a 20-point halftime lead was down to four.
The Cal men’s rugby team, winners of nine straight matches at home against the University of British Columbia coming into Saturday, used a mixture of converted tries and penalty kicks to build a lead in the first 40 minutes.
Sloppy passing, tackling and defensive lapses, however, allowed the Thunderbirds to cut into the Bears’ lead in the second half. UBC’s Sean Ferguson, whose speed posed a problem for Cal all day, scored a try, which cut the score to 28-24.
The home fans at Witter Rugby Field, restless over watching the lead evaporate over a 20-minute stretch, urged the Bears to take control of the match.
Then Jared Braun, who had already intercepted a pass for a 85-meter try in the first few minutes of the game, gave the fans another reason to cheer. The fifth-year senior jumped a UBC pass near the halfway line, sprinted down the sideline and was slowed down by an apparent hamstring injury before leaping past the try line and slamming the ball down. The try by Braun, who had to be helped off the field, gave the Bears a 33-24 lead. They were the final points scored in the match.
“It’s risky business,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark about the two intercepted passes for scores by Braun. “But it worked out for us today.”
While Cal (8-0, 1-0 PAC Rugby Conference) struggled to control the Thunderbirds (12-1) at times, it was ultimately its preparation that propelled Braun to his two scores.
“Our entire game plan was to run at them on defense,” Braun said. “And I just got lucky.”
By far, UBC was the toughest opponent the Bears have played. Last weekend, Cal defeated Oregon State 134-0 and on Thursday, defeated Stanford 61-7.
For a team that does not get tested often during the regular season, Saturday was a good early-season gauge.
“Happy to win and happy to have a high level opponent to compete against,” Clark said. “ A lot of positives that we can build on and a lot of lessons we can highlight in our training.”
The match was the first in a two-game series played between the teams, where the winner receives a “World Cup” trophy based on aggregate point differential. The last time UBC beat the Bears in the World Cup series was in 2004. A 10-point win over Cal at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver next month would break that streak.
“We’re looking forward to having them at our field and taking on another challenge,” said UBC head coach Rameses Langston. “You’ve got to measure your program against the best. And having this opportunity, clearly from what these guys have accomplished, they are the best.”
Contact Stephen Hobbs at [email protected].