Cal rugby dismantles UC Davis for a shutout in home opener

Berkeley Rugby player runs with ball in his hands.
Phillip Downey/File

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Better, faster, stronger.

It’s hard to imagine that Kanye West thought about Cal rugby when he released the song “Stronger” in 2007, but the Bears were better, faster, stronger and more on the field against UC Davis on Saturday.

The Cal faithful filled the stands at the Witter Rugby Field in the afternoon for the home opener, but perhaps Cal Athletics should have asked for IDs beforehand because of the gruesome content that was about to ensue. Cal’s 136-0 shutout win over UC Davis was ugly at best, raising questions about the level of competition the Bears were facing.

“Obviously, it’s hard to tell much. It was kind of a mismatch,” said head coach Jack Clark. “I thought we demonstrated that we are going to be a good team; we are going to have to keep working hard, especially in training, but we are going to be a reasonable team.”

The Aggies’ inability to show any sign of life on the field should not, however, take anything away from the Bears. Cal put up another great outing right out of the gates, as senior lock/flanker Ben Casey’s try opened the scoring just two minutes into the game. Flyhalf/fullback Elliot Webb hit the conversion kick between the uprights for a 7-0 lead, and the fellow senior finished the game with a respectable 9-14 in conversions.

Rugby is not necessarily one of the sports in which going to the restroom might cause you to miss a lot of action, but on Saturday, it might have.

Before the game clock hit 10 minutes, the Bears already had a 26-0 lead, with no intentions of slowing down.

Clark used the team’s first substitution as early as 22 minutes into the game as freshman flyhalf Sam Walsh replaced senior fullback Troy Lockyear, who scored his only try in the 16th minute. Walsh, on the other hand, scored Cal’s first try after he subbed in, one of his two tries in the game. Walsh also converted four of his eight conversion attempts.

The halftime score was an incredible 83-0 behind 12 tries. Perhaps a version of the mercy rule would have been helpful in this affair. Instead, Clark emptied almost all of the team’s bench to share the playing time. Freshman hooker Nathan Zylstra was the last man standing on the bench — he eventually subbed in at the 60th minute.

After all the subs, the Bears needed time to reconfigure with a young roster on the field, and for a while, the game seemed to be competitive. Dropped passes and unforced errors by the Bears took 15 minutes off the clock before Cal eventually added on to the lead.

“I thought we lost a little bit in the opening part of the second half, made a few too many mistakes,” Clark said. “So, we lost a bit of rhythm that we were able to get back towards the end.”

After that point, the Bears shook off, and there was never more than five minutes in the game when Cal couldn’t score. With the Aggies gassed out toward the end, the Bears ended the afternoon with a disrespectful 136-0 shutout for their first 80-minute game victory — Cal recorded three wins the previous weekend in shortened 40-minute matches.

At the end of the game, the scoreboard on the Witter Rugby Field showed 36-0 because of the double-digit slots on it, and to be fair, 36-0 itself would be an extremely dominant rugby match.

Cal’s 22 tries in the game came from 12 different Bears. Sophomore wing Marcus Shankland led the pack with a game-high four tries, while juniors center Christian Dyer and wing Sam Cusano completed the day with hat tricks.

“All credit goes to the team,” Shankland said of his four-try performance. “My position, especially, I rely on everyone else on the team. Today, I thought everyone played extremely well. … I was just fortunate enough to get the credit, but all credit goes to the rest of the team.”

Rugby is a game in which the better team usually finds a way to win, but it is becoming harder to talk about a “competition” for Cal rugby. Next up for Cal will be Parents Weekend against San Diego State, and let’s hope the Bears will be a little more hospitable hosts both for the Aztecs and the families in attendance.

Can Sariöz is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.