Cal rugby set for the annual Scrum Axe Match

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Last season, the Bears beat Stanford 121-5 with a team made up of frosh-sophs and other reserves that featured the likes of sophomore scrumhalf Fawzi Kawash and senior lock Olivier Damas. Cal returns home Wednesday night against Stanford for the next chapter of the annual Scrum Axe match. The contest has taken place since 1961, with the Bears dominating the matchup in the past several years.

This year’s game against the Cardinal could be another opportunity for the Bears’ less-seasoned reserves to gain some valuable playing time. An experience such as this could prove pivotal for the team’s young players, as they continue to be become acclimated to Cal’s rugby program.

“We will play a reserve team for the most part,” said head coach Jack Clark. “It will be a young lineup, I think almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores.”

In addition, Cal has lost important players to injury this season in senior flanker Thomas Robles and sophomore fullback Troy Lockyear, so usual reserves have had to step up and contribute. The losses of Robles and Lockyear have not been an easy or seamless task for the Bears to overcome, because both were usual starters and among the best collegiately at their respective positions.

The Bears’ roster depth, though, was on display in last weekend’s doubleheader against UCLA and USC in Los Angeles. In this two-game set, Cal beat UCLA, 88-7, and then USC, 91-7, with an array of Bears rising to the occasion. Junior wing Jake Goena made the start against the Bruins at fullback in the wake of Lockyear’s injury and scored an impressive three tries. Junior wing William Fuller also added two more tries in the Bears’ 13-try outing.

Cal received strong contributions from other reserves in the latter game versus the Trojans as well. In this contest, sophomore flanker Ben Casey, freshman flyhalf Ken Kurihara and senior wing Evan Coleman were key contributors that catalyzed the Bears’ strong offensive and defensive performances.

“The standout player in the game against USC might have been Ben Casey,” Clark said. “He played very well coming back from injuries, so I was glad to see him back in. Ken Kurihara played very well, too. I thought those two players stuck out the most.”

Wednesday evening’s game may offer the perfect recipe for reserves to cook up some production against Stanford, because this matchup has lately served as a game for young players to get in on some action while usual starters rest. Though it is unclear which players will be chosen to play against Stanford, a weekday game is a prime chance for the reserves to compete. In its first weekday game of this year’s 15s season, Cal carried a roster of frosh-sophs and other reserves against Cal Maritime, and the Bears dominated en route to an 87-0 win.

This year’s Cal-Stanford match should be another showcase of the Bears’ youth in one of the final regular-season contests before the Bears transition into postseason time.

Ryan Groves covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].