San Francisco’s Olympic Club presents new challenge to Cal rugby

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In almost every video game, there is a new level of difficulty after every victory and the next opponent tends to get bigger and better. For Cal rugby (5-0), the next level up will be against a senior men’s club, San Francisco’ s Olympic Club, after its dominant outing in central California last weekend.

“(Olympic Club players) probably had more big rugby games under their belt,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “So, we are looking for a challenge.”

Olympic Club consists of players in their 20s and 30s, which usually means they are physically stronger as well as more experienced.

“The challenge is, in my mind, a physical challenge,” said fifth-year Thomas Robles.

This Saturday will mark the first home game of the 2018 15-a-side rugby season for Cal. Fans will not only have the chance to see the undefeated Bears play, but they will also welcome back some familiar faces.

Olympic Club is coached by former Cal captain Ray Lehner and the team has former Cal players on the roster. Lehner was a three-time All-American in his years at Cal while helping the Bears win three National championships under Clark’s coaching. He is also a four-time Oxford Blue and a U.S. International.

“It will be great to see Ray Lehner — we have nothing but respect for him,” Clark said.

The Bears made a very strong start to the season on both offense and defense after having encountering some defensive problems in the fall. Having lost several key players in the offseason, it is important for the upperclassmen to lead the younger players and help them step up.

“For some reason, this group is willing to come together and work really hard every single day,” Robles said.

For Cal, the Olympic Club matchup will be a good opportunity to test themselves and fine-tune the things they have been practicing on against a tough opponent. If the Bears can manage to execute their game plan against a senior men’s club, they will have set themselves up for success in intercollegiate matchups.

“We got to improve and we got to keep installing new plays; we have to keep building our own repertoire of things that we do,” Clark said.

It is very probable that the Olympic Club will be highly prepared against the Bears, as they will know the culture and playing style of Cal through Lehner and other former Cal players.

The match will start at 1 p.m. Saturday and will be followed by a reserve-grade match. Fans can expect a roster similar to last weekend’s Cal Poly match, where the Bears deployed a mix of experienced and young players. The veterans get the chance to test themselves against professional players, while the younger players gain valuable experience points.

“There is a mentality when you are with a group of guys and your own blue and gold stripes that you are going to give an insatiable effort,” Robles said. “You are going to put everything out there for 80 minutes and make sure that, at the end of the day, you are proud of the effort you put in respecting yourself as an individual, but more importantly, the university and our rugby team.”

Can Sariöz covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz