Since the PAC rugby conference was formed in 2012, its championship crown has only known one school. On Saturday, Cal (13-2) ensured its fourth straight title with an easy win on the road against Utah. The Bears are undefeated against all five fellow PAC schools since the creation of the conference, so the 46-19 win and the title are no surprise. But after an embarrassingly large defeat at the hands of foe University of British Columbia a week earlier, Cal showed they still have the pedigree to dominate inferior foes.
Playing on the road for a second consecutive week, the Bears fought through winds that reached double digit speeds to get the win. All-American senior center Anthony Salaber added two tries for the second time this season, as did fifth-year senior Jesse Milne. Both were subbed out of the loss against the Thunderbirds fairly early last week, and the additional rest may have given them the extra pop needed for this week.
“I think the players attitude was good today,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “I think they appreciate it, and honestly with how bad last week was, they were really trying to go out and get a victory.”
Although the 27-point margin might seem lopsided, the result may be a bit disappointing considering that last year, in their only matchup, Cal beat the Utes by 77. That game was at Witter Field, but the venue is not enough to explain the 50 point swing.
Last week’s match against UBC saw the Bears at full strength for the first time in a while, but the game against Utah saw a return to Clark’s tinkering with the starting lineup. Freshman flanker Nathan Becker started a game played primarily by the usual starters for the second time this season, and senior fullback Karl Thornton started for the third time to rest senior Harry Adolphus, who has fought through minor injuries this season.
“(Becker’s) a developing player, and he deserves a chance to play, and I think he did OK. Not too much more than that, but OK,” Clark said.
The Bears and the Utes may face off again this season in the semifinals of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup, which will take place April 23. It would be a huge shock for Cal not to make it to that point, but Utah would most likely need to defeat UCLA to reach that round. The Bruins defeated the Utes in a narrow two-point match in Salt Lake City on March 12, but anything can happen in a rematch after an original game so close.
This coming Wednesday’s game against Stanford will be played by a frosh/soph team for the Bears. A match against Santa Clara was rescheduled for the same day as the Bears’ first match of the postseason, so it’s hard to imagine the starters playing in that match either. So the Utes were most likely the last stand for the core of the team until playoffs begin.
“Maybe confidence isn’t the right word, but we’re ready to take the next step as a team, and we’re looking ready for the challenge,” Clark said.
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]