Home sweet home.
This weekend, Pac Rugby 7s Championship comes back to Witter Rugby Field, home of the oldest sport at Cal, after three years away.
The Cal faithful will have the chance to see the eight best rugby teams amongst Pac-12 schools compete for glory as they divide into two already determined pools Saturday.
The event will kick off Saturday at 11:05 a.m. with Pool A, as Arizona takes on Oregon State, followed by Utah against Arizona State. As the top seed in Pool A, the Wildcats are coming to Strawberry Canyon as the defending champions after ending the Bears’ five-time championship streak last year at Tucson, Arizona.
“Last year, we lost in overtime, and they’re good this year — I mean they are a good team,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “I think when we play well, it matters less, the other team; we didn’t play well in Treasure Island, so we had to do everything we can do to squeeze out a victory because they are a good team.”
Pool B, on the other hand, will start with a pair of cross-city rivalries as Cal takes on Stanford and UCLA faces USC. Favorites in Pool B, Cal will later face tough competition against UCLA, who gave them a good test last time in Treasure Island.
“They (UCLA) are a real threat to win, maybe one of the favorites to win the tournament,” Clark said. “So, that will be a big pool game because whoever wins our pool — I imagine Arizona wins the other pool — the pools would crossover, and so, it would be hard to wake up and play UCLA and Arizona the second day.”
The pool play Saturday will determine the seeding for the single-elimination bracket, cross matching the two pools’ standings.
“We are not fantastic; we are solid; we are one of the better teams but we have to actually perform well on the day because we don’t have enough talent to not play well, you know, and just let our talent get the result or get the victory,” Clark said. “We have to perform well and we are capable of that.”
Cal is coming back home with a perfect record this season, winning both tournaments so far. The Bears, however, haven’t been perfect on the field and have room to improve. Especially in 7s, which is very much open to surprise, everyone on the team should be ready to perform.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a good tournament — I think the team has some resolve about them and I think the team has been really honest about the areas we really have to work on,” Clark said.
Areas the Bears need to work on, specifically, are restarts and defense. The Bears haven’t consistently kicked the ball well so far, and catch after kicks have been sloppy. Troubles in restarts forced the Bears to play more defensively than desired, and both line defense and tackling have room to improve as well.
“We haven’t been happy with any aspects of our defense,” Clark said.
The Bears will be on the field with a mix of under and upperclassmen, with the expectation of more experienced starters getting more time in tougher matchups. Cal will try to spread the minutes in easier games in order to have fresh legs when needed in more intense matchups.
“We’ve got some good players,” Clark said. “I’m hopeful that they are going to just play to their potential. They have really high ceilings to what they can do; they don’t have to be better than themselves — they just got to play to their potential.”
A rematch of last year’s final is perhaps on the horizon, but in front of the home crowd, anything less than the title will be a disappointment for the Bears.