Just 10 days ago, the Cal rugby team was forced to take a long look in the mirror. Following a 50-3 shellacking at the hands of the University of British Columbia, there were many questions surrounding whether the team was still among the big dogs of the collegiate rugby landscape. It followed that match by claiming outright ownership of the PAC Rugby Conference title in a 46-19 victory over Utah, yet there still remained the lingering fear that the oft-injured Bears could be destabilized in the future if the injury bug took yet another chomp out of the starting lineup and forced an inexperienced player to step up.
On Wednesday night in Palo Alto, the team’s frosh-sophs did their very best to mitigate that fear. With 13 Bears posting 19 total tries in the 121-5 win over the Cardinal, the younger players proved to the coaches, the starters and to themselves that any slip or injury in the playoffs would not quite spell disaster.
The Bears trotted out a starting lineup consisting of nine freshmen and sophomores, and when their score approached triple digits, eight more frosh-sophs were subbed in to wrap up the win. The team was paced by three hat-trick scorers: freshman scrumhalf Fawzi Kawash, junior center Billy Maggs and sophomore wing William Fuller. For the most part, though, the young players seemed happy enough to stretch their legs a bit in a varsity win — the +116 point differential against their school’s archrival was just gravy.
“Today it was just a pleasure to get some minutes. To start and see the Facebook and the Instagram and just see your face at No. 9 — you’re like ‘this is real, this is fun,’” Kawash said.
While the young Bears were no doubt playing hard to reflect the work and the preparation they and their coaching staff had put in throughout the week, they also seemed to be sending a bit of a message. While the starters are still humming along through blowout after blowout, the team’s two recent losses to the same UBC team no doubt force coaches to take a long look at the overachieving frosh-sophs as possible understudies as they march into the postseason. Injury or not, the young bucks look ready.
“It’s always a big honor to come out and play for the blue and gold in a varsity game, especially one with this much history,” said freshman prop Jack Iscaro. “I think some of the freshmen showed a pretty great game for themselves, showed what they could do and kind of put their name in the hat for some games later in the year.”
Moving forward, each lineup now has a match to prepare for. The starters will kick off the first round of Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship national postseason April 9 against Texas, while the frosh-sophs will battle with Santa Clara just afterward.
While the matches against UBC didn’t go as planned for Cal — especially its most recent tango — the team has to believe that its performances following the losses have kept it within spitting distance of a legitimate shot at a national championship. The Bears simply need to thank God that UBC only plays in Canada.
Austin Isaacsohn covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].