After earning a first-round bye in the Varsity Cup, the No. 2 seed Cal rugby team will travel south to Los Angeles for a postseason, single elimination match with conference rival UCLA (12-2, 4-1 PAC). This will be the third time this season that Cal will battle the Bruins. After losing the first two meetings, UCLA will seek its vengeance on the North Athletic Field on Saturday.
Although Cal (16-2, 5-0) is more than familiar with postseason play, the squad finds itself hobbling into the 2014 playoffs. The Bears have been dormant in their past two games, losing to Saint Mary’s and UBC with a patchwork starting lineup.
“There is no one reason for the way that we have been playing as of late,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “Injuries are a huge reason for our struggles, but we can’t discredit that we lost to two very good teams in Saint Mary’s and UBC. UCLA will be a battle, and we are doing everything we can to prepare for it.”
Cal’s high-powered offense has been anything but in the past two matches, mustering a dismal 34 points in that span. Even with the return of captain Seamus Kelly and wingJake Anderson, the Bears are playing woeful rugby. Injuries stand out as an obvious reason for the Bears’ sudden downturn, with wings Jesse Milne and Josh Tucker among those who will be watching the postseason from the bench. The Bears’ ranks are heavily depleted, while a healthy UCLA side smells blood in the water as the game approaches.
“We are not taking advantage of every minute that we are out on the field,” said flankerAlec Gletzer. “When this team sacrifices everything out on the field, no one in the country can beat us. But we are not playing to our potential, and it’s showing. We need to bring it against UCLA.”
The Bruins have been consistent since falling to Cal back on Feb. 22,winning their past five matches, including a playoff beating of Oklahoma last week. UCLA is averaging 73.2 points per game in their current tear. While their offense has been impressive, opponents have been unable to put up points. Much of the Bruins’ success as of late is because their stingy defense is conceding an average of only 13.6 points per game.
“UCLA has given us a lot of trouble this season, there’s no doubt about that,” Clark said. “But this is a good team, one that has beaten the Bruins on their field before. Our focus is on putting the last two games behind us and training right now. This is a match that UCLA is going to want badly.”
Cal is up against the wall in its current state. Injuries plague the team and those who are healthy are not playing to the smash-mouth rugby for which they are known. The Bears need to regroup if they hope to avoid elimination against a heated conference rival.
Christian Legg covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].