After a close two matches in the “World Cup” series against the University of British Columbia, or UBC, Cal rugby is back on the road and will return to conference play to face rival UCLA on Saturday at 2:15 p.m.
The loss to UBC on March 3 was the only loss this year for the Bears (9-1, 1-0 Pac-12) as the team has regularly shut out opponents throughout the season. At their first official conference matchup, Cal doused Arizona State for a 109-0 win. In total, the Bears have recorded shutouts in five of their 10 matches.
After starting 30 different players in the series with UBC, the team has experimented with many lineups involving both upperclassmen and underclassmen to coalesce 15 players who might lead Cal to the College 15s National Championships under storied head coach and Cal Athletic Hall of Famer, Jack Clark.
Cal previously faced UCLA (9-2, 2-1 Pac-12) in a preseason friendly Jan. 20 in Los Angeles, winning 31-3 to dominate the Dennis Storer Classic with senior Jack Iscaro and junior Christian Dyer each scoring two tries to lead the Bears. The Bruins could only manage an early penalty field goal by Cian Barry.
The last conference matchup between the rival schools was held March 10, 2018, and it resulted in a 58-3 Cal victory on the Bears’ homecoming night. Cal reeled off 43 unanswered points in the second half, including a try from current junior flanker Sid Holland.
But the Bears must look for new playmakers in this year’s competition because the scoring leaders from that match — flyhalf/center Matthew Coyle (13 points) and wing William Fuller (10 points on two tries) — have graduated.
The Bruins responded to the preseason loss with a 2-1 conference record thus far and earned a 41-8 victory against Utah, followed by a road trip to the desert that resulted in a 25-34 loss to then-No. 10 Arizona and a 77-3 victory at Arizona State.
Overall, Cal is entering this match looking to continue a strong start for the season, and return to the national championship final after dropping the 15s championship last year with a 5-60 loss to Life University. UCLA aims to avenge the early preseason loss by earning an upset victory against the historically dominant Cal rugby program.
After facing UCLA, Cal will travel to face Bay Area opponent Santa Clara on March 15 at 6 p.m. and then return home for a homecoming double header the next day.
Kunal Dutta covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].