15-1: Cal rugby handed 1st loss of season in Vancouver

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Undefeated no more.

On Sunday, UBC handed mighty Cal rugby its first loss of the season, by a decisive score of 49-25.

Cal stepped on the field in Vancouver with a completely different look as head coach Jack Clark changed all 15 starters from the last Saturday’s match-up — a 39-36 win for the Bears. The aim Sunday was to distribute available minutes as much as possible in order to get everyone on the roster ready for a championship run.

A loss might have been expected with the nature of the matchup, considering the strength of the Thunderbirds and Clark’s rotation.

“We’re trying to spread the opportunity, give more guys the chance to play that level of rugby,” Clark said. “We think it will help their development, and we think it will help our team.”

The Bears, however, did not go down easily. In fact, they posted their best performance scoring-wise, especially offensively, compared to their last two games played in Vancouver against the Thunderbirds.

UBC scored 49 points, only a 1-point drop from last two years’ 50-point games, both wins for the host team. Cal’s 25 points though was a big improvement to its 3 and 5 points posted in each of the previous two years.

The match began as an even chest-match as freshman center Adam Roeske scored a try converted by senior flyhalf/center Matthew Coyle to tie the game at 10 apiece as one quarter of playing time passed by.

“I would have liked to make a larger impact in the second half and get the ball away quicker,” Roeske said. “It’s very important to keep up the communication from centers to outside backs, so that’s something I would like to work on.”

The rest of the first half, however, was dominated by the Thunderbirds as fullback Theo Sauder single-handedly scored more points than the Bears, with 13 of his 21 game points in the remaining portion of the half. A try, conversion and two penalty kicks helped the Thunderbirds enter the halftime break with a comfortable lead, 23-10.

Cal (15-1) kept things interesting with UBC (17-5) despite committing small mistakes that kept them playing catch-up. In minute 57, freshman fullback/center Seth Purdey scored a try converted by Coyle to cut the lead to eight, 28-20.

The Thunderbirds’ physical prowess came out strong in the last stretch of the game, though, as they outscored the Bears, 21-5, to finish the game on a high note, 49-25.

“If we hadn’t made various fumbles, I think that we could have had a much closer second half,” Roeske said. “But I think (UBC’s) physicality definitely challenged us.”

Although their undefeated season is no more, Cal will not return home empty-handed, as there is a lot to build off of from Sunday’s match. Cal’s tries were scored by three freshmen, proving the team’s young talent and the increasing competition for starting spots on the roster.

The Bears have less than a week to recover from the loss as it welcomes Army, Claremont and UCLA to Strawberry Canyon for the Cal Invitational, which will take place during the team’s Homecoming Weekend.

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