Through four matches on a cool southern California weekend, the Cal men’s rugby team racked up 201 points and let up zero on its way to its 11th straight Dennis Storer Classic title. Despite fighting a nasty flu bug that was making its way though the team, the Bears were able to put on an entirely dominant display at UCLA. The title is clearly not a surprise, but shutting out UCLA was a true display of strong defense — the Bears had not shut out the Bruins on their home pitch since 2014.
Things did not look smooth from the very beginning. Cal head coach Jack Clark started his usual reserve players against UC San Diego, and the group mishandled two wide passes in the opening minutes, squandering scoring opportunities. Junior Connor Sweet, however, opened the scoring with a try up the middle five minutes in, and the points never stopped pouring in on the way to a 61-0 victory. Junior Drew Gaffney and sophomore Jake Goena both scored twice, and junior Jamie Howell was an impressive eight for nine on conversions.
“I thought our handling was a little bit sloppy throughout the match,” Clark said. “We weren’t under much pressure. …it was just us. (The match) was just okay. Pay no attention to the score, we were just okay.”
When playing a Santa Cruz squad that was severely undersized across the entire lineup, the Bears wasted no time. Sophomore William Fuller scored in the first minute on the way to a 40-0 halftime lead. Cal took its foot off the gas a bit in the second half, scoring only 26 points. Fuller, who impressed throughout the fall season, had an up-and-down game. He had a few brilliant runs but also mishandled two balls and made a wild pass that lead to one of his team’s few ugly turnovers of the weekend.
“(Fuller) lost the plot there for one moment or so, but he did better at other times,” Clark said. “(He’s) a mature young man and an improving player. He’s an awfully quick guy on the outside.”
Most of the varsity team started against Davis in the last match Saturday, and they were tested against a resilient and physical defense. The Bears had many scoring opportunities, but the Aggies held strong when backed up far onto their side of the field, holding Cal to five points in the first half. Seniors Russell Webb and Anthony Salaber both played outstandingly in the second half to help break the game open on the way to a 36-0 win.
Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Bears, the Bruins had dominated San Diego and Santa Cruz and narrowly defeated Davis. Simply keeping it close with Cal would have been a worthy accomplishment, but that’s not the way things broke. The Bears’ senior fullback Harry Adolphus was the clear star of the match; he had one try, two conversions and three penalties. Fifth-year senior Jesse Milne also got in on the scoring with three tries of his own. Howells, Fuller and freshman Nathan Becker were all rewarded with playing time in the second half of the match.
“This is the first time we’ve played 15s all year, and we had to shake off some cobwebs,” Webb said. “We had a player meeting and looked each other in the eye and told each other we had to be better, and we got rid of the handling errors.”
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].