After last weekend’s blowout of Arizona State, the Cal rugby team now sits comfortably atop the PAC Rugby Conference and also holds the No. 2-ranked spot in the country. For once, the Bears (8-1, 2-0 PAC) will not be playing at Witter Rugby Field, as they instead travel down south to take on their next challenge — the No. 7 UCLA Bruins.
After losing to conference opponent Utah on Feb. 7, the Bruins (6-2, 1-1 PAC) are currently in third place in the PAC conference and are looking to catch up to Cal. When these two teams last played each other, the Bears came away with a decisive 32-7 victory Jan. 18 at the Dennis Storer Classic tournament, as they held the Bruins scoreless in the first half before finally yielding just one try and conversion in the second half. Regardless, Cal players are looking to this weekend’s matchup as a new challenge that will require them to continue building on past weeks’ performances and rise to the occasion.
“The Cal-UCLA game is a storied match between two great California programs,” said senior wing Andrew Battaglia, who is set to start Saturday. “UCLA always performs at a high level during this competition. It’s these games that help us to really build as a team, and we look forward to taking the field.”
This will be the Bruins’ first time back on the field in two weeks, while the Bears will be playing for the fourth time in that same time period, raising the possibility that the Bruins could pull off an upset. On the flip side, however, this could spell doom for UCLA, as it may not be ready for a Cal team that is far more battle-tested than the last time they faced off. Furthermore, given the outcome of January’s game, the Bruins could find themselves falling behind even more in the division.
In order for UCLA to knock off Cal, it must find a way to score against a defense that has become seemingly more and more impenetrable and contain the Bears’ varied offensive attack, which will be a tall order for a team that has not played in two weeks.
For the Bears, each game has helped them shake off rust and shape themselves into championship form as the season progresses. The fact that there will most likely be six changes to the 15-man starting lineup — three of which involve position switches — from the last time Cal played UCLA is just one example of how the team has continuously evolved since then. Both flyhalf Russell Webb and Battaglia will be back on the field after missing the previous game against UCLA, while Edward Tandy will start at flanker in place of injured co-captain and flanker Alec Gletzer.
“From a team perspective, we want to build off of our improving performance against ASU,” said sophomore flanker Connor Sweet. “We also know that UCLA always plays their best games against us, which means personally and for a lot of the guys, we must have solid performances to keep building.”
Vik Waghray covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].