The Cal men’s rugby team didn’t lose Saturday’s match against UCLA (6-3, 1-2 PAC). In fact, the Bears won, 18-12, but the post-game sense of disappointment from head coach Jack Clark was palpable. While the road trip down south was ultimately a success, the No. 2 Bears (9-1, 3-0 PAC) have returned to the Bay more than ready to leave the star-lined streets of sunny Los Angeles behind them.
After scoring two tries in the first half, one by senior wing Andrew Battaglia, and the other by senior prop Scott Walsh — the first of which fifth-year senior fullback Jake Anderson was able to kick a conversion on — the Bears lost what little momentum they had going into the second half, when they gave up two tries on a series of flubbed plays.
“My thoughts on the game were, ‘I’m glad we won,’ ” Clark said. “I mean, yeah, I thought it would be close, maybe not as close as it was, but they (UCLA) had a chance to win the game in the end, which is a little bit too close.”
The three points Anderson was able to add to the scoreboard off a penalty kick in the 34th minute proved imperative for the Bears, who struggled to retain the lead against a burgeoning UCLA team in the second half.
“You know, I thought that going in, the most dangerous part of UCLA’s game is that, you know, if you give them a mistake, they’re capable of scoring a try with it,” Clark said. “And they did, twice.”
In the 63rd minute, as junior flyhalf Russell Webb released the ball in a pass intended for his fellow Cal teammate, the Bruins pounced. After searching the entire first half, trying to find the tender underbelly of a typically dominant Bears team, UCLA junior center Race Noeldner sprung to action, capitalizing on the Bears’ moment of weakness. Noeldner intercepted the ball and ran 75 meters down the field and into the try zone before slamming the ball down triumphantly.
The Bruins’ junior flyhalf, Ben Francis, kicked a conversion for the extra two points, decreasing the Bears’ lead to an attainable eight points before UCLA’s sophomore flanker Zach Bonte was able to close the gap even further, adding another try to the scoreboard off a lost Cal ball in the corner.
With 10 minutes left in the game and the score reduced to a 15-12 Bears lead, the Bruins were full of adrenaline. The opportunity to take down the No. 1 team in the PAC was tantalizing. But UCLA was unable to focus its energy in a productive manner, instead committing a penalty against the Bears, which Cal’s Anderson was easily able to convert for an extra three points.
The final score, 18-12, is a win that the Bears are grateful for — yet ready to put behind them.
“Well, we have a big game next week,” Clark said, pausing in a concerted effort to come up with a positive takeaway from the game. “And, you know, I’m not really willing to dwell too long on this game. In many ways, it was a bit of a trapped game the entire way. … And, you know, we lived through it.”
Jessi McDonald covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected].