Cal rugby fights to stay perfect in short trip to Treasure Island

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Even if you haven’t watched a single minute of rugby, you might still know about the All Blacks.

The New Zealand national team has been at the top of rugby rankings the majority of the time since rankings were introduced, and the All Blacks are currently the back-to-back reigning champions in 15s.

Sevens, however, is a different game with a very short duration of two seven-minute halves. Consistently being successful is close to impossible, as seen by the All Blacks’ quarterfinal exit against Fiji in the 2016 Olympics.

Over the weekend, the Bears will fight to stay perfect at the West Coast 7s in Treasure Island after tallying a combined 6-0 record in San Luis Obispo two weeks ago with two different teams: one built by underclassmen and the other predominantly upperclassmen.

“I think we’re pretty happy with the first outing. I mean, it was pretty easy to identify the things we have to work on,” head coach Jack Clark said. “Just need to build on those.”

Cal has come up short at Treasure Island over the last two years with all-freshman and sophomore teams, missing the title with 5-1 records both years. This time, a mixed Bears team will be on the field, and about two-thirds of the roster is expected to be upperclassmen.

“It won’t be our … best side, and it won’t be our soft side. I think it will be a good side with all of our best players pretty much in it,” Clark said.

Cal will compete with USC, Nevada and the Central Coast Athletic Club in Pool A on Saturday to advance to the cup quarterfinal round Sunday.

The rest of the pools of the 16-team tournament will consist of UCLA, Arizona State, Santa Clara and Cal Maritime in Pool B; Arizona, UC Davis, University of San Diego and UC Santa Cruz in Pool C; and Cal Poly, Utah, Sacramento and Stanford in Pool D.

Even though the Bears look like the clear favorites on paper, they need to be careful with the ball, as 7s does not give much room for error or redemption.

“The key is typically always ball retention and the ability to play defense, and then restarts are a big part of the game,” Clark said.

Especially after last season’s turnover problems, the Bears will try to improve at every step before the PAC Rugby 7s Championship and the 15s season in the spring. After all, the fall season is short, and the Bears need to capitalize on every chance to improve.

“Once you get into the contest, I mean, you gotta hang on to the ball,” Clark said. “If you have a high turnover count, you just end up playing too much defense, and it’s hard in 7s to play defense … longer than a couple (of) minutes.”

From Nov. 3-4, Strawberry Canyon will play host to the PAC Rugby 7s Championship as Cal will try to reclaim the conference throne from Arizona to finish the fall 7s season.

Can Sariöz covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.