For most sports teams, having two thirds of your starting lineup wiped out by injuries within a month is a cataclysm of epic proportions. For the Cal rugby team, it means winning by 34 points instead of 38.
The Bears kicked off the 15s season in January at the Dennis Storer Classic, ending with a 38-0 win over UCLA on the Bruins’ home field, playing 20-minute halves instead of the traditional 40. Since that time, injuries have decimated their lineup, and of the 15 players who started against UCLA on Saturday, only five also started the first match against the Bruins. With a narrow 12-3 lead at halftime the Bears may have looked like they were going to limp to an unimpressive victory, but a great second half and a 37-3 final score let the Bears leave Witter Field with their heads held high.
Included among those injured is star senior flyhalf Russell Webb, who had not played in the last three matches. Webb was left off the starting lineup, but was bizarrely subbed into the game for an injured Jamie Howells only 28 minutes into the game. Although he was able to evade a few tackles, Webb was clearly either hobbled by his injuries or rusty from his time on the bench. A normally unselfish player, Webb held onto the ball a few times when he should have passed, and had a kick blocked, very nearly leading to a Bruins try. With a strong lock on the lead, Cal head coach Jack Clark sent in five subs in the 62nd minute, letting Webb back off the field.
“I was going to wait and decide at the end of the game if (Webb) was going to get a few minutes,” Clark said. “The plan for (Webb) was not for him to play as much as he played.”
After impressive play by junior Matt Ternan and sophomore William Fuller in last week’s win against Cal Maritime, both were selected to start in Saturday’s match. Both filled in very well again, Fuller scored two tries with seeming ease, and on top of giving Fuller a key pass on one of his scores, Ternan had a few impressive tackles.
“This is my first varsity start at home, and against a team like UCLA, who we have a rivalry against, it’s pretty cool,” Fuller said. “(Ternan) and I are really good friends off the field, so I feel like we’ve got a good chemistry, and you could see that on the field today.”
Fifth-year senior Nicklas Boyer, starting for the second time in two weeks, essentially had a repeat performance from last week’s win over Air Force. He was very strong in the flow of the offense, scoring two tries once again. On the kicking side, he continued to struggle, finishing two of six on the day. Junior Evan Coleman, also starting the second game he has played in a row, played another very strong day at fullback. Adding one try, his speed and energy was once again a great help to the Bears.
“We’ve got so many guys hurt, Coleman started because we don’t have any other fullbacks,” Clark said. “I think he did really well again, and he’s had a couple good games in a row.”
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]