The Cal rugby team will face its first serious test of the season and put its undefeated 2015-16 record on the line when the University of British Columbia visits Berkeley on Saturday as part of their annual “World Cup” series. Cal and UBC have played two matches a year, one on both school’s home pitch, since 1921.
The Bears have managed to cruise through an easy schedule thus far, shutting out their opponents in all five matches of the 15s season, but victory will not come so easily on Saturday. UBC will be coming into town with a 10-0 record, with wins over Oxford and University of Victoria, and two wins over the Seattle Saracens, a traveling CDI Premier League men’s club considered to be one of the best teams in the United States.
“We know what to expect,” said fifth-senior senior Scott Walsh. “They’re a really good technical team, they’re good on the scrums and they’re very skilled. We know they’re always going to give us a game; there’s never been a time it’s been easy. If we’re going to win this one we have to put all our cards on the table.”
Bryan Tyrer was the Bears’ biggest tormenter in last year’s series, but he is no longer on the roster. The loss of that sort of key player may have given the Bears the edge in this series, but Cal will also be without its top scorer from last year. The now-graduated fullback Jake Anderson scored the majority of Cal’s points in both legs of the series last year, including a penalty kick with no time remaining in Vancouver to give Cal a 23-21 win.
“(Anderson) was a very clutch kicker, and if it’s a close game, conversions and penalty kicks become critical,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “(With him gone) we’re just trying to find our best player, and we’ve got guys stepping into position. We’re just trying to put the best guys out, we’re even starting a freshman (flanker Nic Mirhashem).”
UBC’s biggest advantage may instead be the nature of their schedule. While the Bears spent the entire fall semester playing sevens, UBC has been playing 15s since September, which is the format being played Saturday.
“There’s not much you can do (about the later start time in 15s),” Clark said. “We could start (practicing 15s) a month earlier just for this game, but that doesn’t help us come April and May. It just is what it is, and we’ve generally managed to win this game without a lot of prep.”
Last year’s “World Cup” was a bit of an anomaly, with both teams losing at home and UBC winning the point total. Cal had won 14 of the last 17 in the series and had not lost at home to the Thunderbirds in more than 10 years, but UBC won a decisive 19-6 on a rainy and windy day at Witter Rugby Field. The Bears were held without a try, only scoring on kicks by Anderson. One upside for the Bears may be that the conditions are expected to be much nicer than last year.
“(UBC’s) advantages are in their high talent level,” Clark said. “I’m more worried about that than the weather. They get the benefit of playing graduate students, and they’re just a tough team for us to play. I think it’s up to us even make it a game. This is a big game for the Cal faithful.”
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].