After easily handing out losses like candy to opponents throughout the regular season, the Cal rugby team hit a wall Saturday against St. Mary’s — one that it ultimately couldn’t overcome. Despite a second-half near-comeback, the Bears were not able to triumph over the undefeated Gaels, and they fell, 21-12, in their final regular-season game of the spring.
The Bears’ scoring effort was their lowest one of the season — and not coincidentally, it came against their toughest opponent.
The only lead that Cal held came early in the first half, when senior wing Justin Dunn scored a try in the 14th minute to put the Bears up, 5-3. That lead wouldn’t last long, however, as St. Mary’s came back on the other end three minutes later, when the Gaels’ junior Sean Yacoubian scored on a penalty kick to regain the lead for his team, 6-5.
Yacoubian, a scrumhalf from Scotland, was the Gaels’ leading scorer, tallying 11 of his team’s 21 total points in the game off of three penalty kicks and a conversion.
The Bears were plagued by their own mistakes throughout the course of the game, allowing St. Mary’s to capitalize on errors that Cal doesn’t typically make. The Bears committed double-digit turnovers — and the Gaels were able to make use of these lapses throughout the game.
“No. 1, you have to keep in mind that you’re playing a good opponent, and No. 2, a lot of what you’re doing on the field is going to enable you to become victorious at the end of that situation,” said fifth-year No. 8 Thomas Robles.
St. Mary’s built on its lead at the end of the first half with a try and a conversion in the 36th minute. Heading into halftime, the Gaels held a 13-5 lead.
The Bears were not able to score again until the 53rd minute, when a try from sophomore scrumhalf Keanu Andrade and a conversion from junior fullback Troy Lockyear brought the Bears within four, 16-12.
Cal, though, was unable to score again in the game — and that inability contributed to the win for St. Mary’s. The Gaels scored one last try in the 78th minute, sealing the Bears’ fate, and closing the match with a 21-12 scoreline in favor of St. Mary’s.
“Coming out with a loss here, we have a lot of lessons we can learn,” Robles said. “The lessons we can learn moving forward will carry us through the next four weeks into playoffs, and that’s what I’m most excited for.”
While the loss is a signal to the Bears of the challenges that lay ahead in the postseason, it won’t have a tangible effect on their next four weeks. Cal has already qualified for the playoffs, and the Bears will host a yet-to-be-determined opponent at Witter Rugby Field next weekend. The Gaels, who remain unbeaten, will enter the postseason ranked No. 1 in the nation.
It is very possible that the Bears and the Gaels will meet again in April. Now, Cal knows exactly what to expect from its California rivals — and that knowledge could prove invaluable in a high-stakes playoff matchup.
Sophie Goethals covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected]