Cooking is a complicated process. To create the tastiest dish, a cook needs the best ingredients and equipment on top of great skills, but these mean nothing if the food is improperly prepared. The taste would be rather bitter, just like a season with an early playoff exit.
Cal rugby certainly has the right ingredients, in addition to a great chef in head coach Jack Clark, as Grand Canyon University comes to town for the first round of the national collegiate 15s postseason.
The Bears enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed as part of a tournament in which the top 16 teams of the season compete in a single-game elimination format.
After last weekend’s loss to No. 1 seed St. Mary’s, Cal has a chance to bounce back in front of its home crowd as the team begins its run at another title.
The Gaels’ defense held the Bears to their lowest-scoring affair of the year while forcing 26 Cal turnovers.
Giveaways have been a problem for the Bears this season as they’ve been caught trying to be fancy in their fast-paced offense.
“We’ve had skill breakdowns, we are a skillful team, we are capable of playing a pretty clean game of rugby. Now, we play adventurous — we are willing to give this and give that,” Clark said, mimicking some of the passes they have been trying to complete. “You are going to have double digits, you’re going to have 10 maybe — we had 26!”
The Bears will face the Antelopes for the first time in a 15s match, but the two have competed in 7s three times in the past. Cal won all three of those matches, the most recent win coming last fall in West Coast 7s on the central coast.
The injury report for the Bears is currently not very long, especially compared to where it stood midseason. Sophomore center Christian Dyer left last Saturday’s game early with a minor injury, and it is uncertain if he will be ready to suit up.
Another loss stemming from this weekend’s loss was sophomore prop Damon Wiley, whose injury will likely force him to miss the first couple of rounds in the playoffs. Junior lock/flanker Ben Casey, however, returned to action against St. Mary’s after a lengthy absence.
“I think we are down four, five players,” Clark said. “That’s not unusual for this time of the year; we’ve played a lot of rugby, so we are healthy enough to go compete this weekend.”
Everyone on Cal’s roster will certainly need to perform well, as the single-game elimination format leaves little room for error. The majority of the team’s blue and gold faithful is probably looking ahead to the championship match set for May 5 in Santa Clara, but it is crucial to move step by step and opponent by opponent against a plethora of competitive squads.
The Antelopes will strut into Strawberry Canyon hoping to spice things up, while the Bears will aim to serve them an early exit.