What does it mean when you wake up early on a September morning and hear the sounds of bodies hitting turf coming from Witter Field?
It’s simple: Cal rugby is back at the grindstone, they have a tournament this weekend and they aim to have another great season.
“We want to be one of the better teams in the nation,” said head coach Jack Clark.
Translation: The Bears want to reach another national championship.
The Cal varsity rugby squad’s first challenge of the preseason will take place Saturday, Oct. 5, competing in round one of the West Coast 7s tournament in San Luis Obispo, California. The second round of the tournament will take place on Treasure Island the weekend of Oct.19.
The West Coast 7s tournament consists of mostly west coast teams — including Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. To draw a comparison to football, the teams at this tournament are roughly the rugby version of the Pac-12. The tournament consists of two pools of four teams each. Cal is sending one team to each pool — the first team is composed of more experienced players, the second is mostly a frosh-soph team.
The Bears are heavily favored coming into the tournament after their 19-5 victory over UCLA in the finals of the same tournament last year and, not to mention, their narrow loss to Life University in the national championship last spring. Last season, Cal went 22-1 in 7s play.
The Bears, however, will face some stiff competition from increasingly successful programs — Arizona, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Davis and of course UCLA. Last year, Cal squeezed by with a 17-15 victory over Arizona in the semifinals. According to Clark, Arizona will be one of the better teams in the tournament.
Injuries may also prove to be a problem. The Bears have lost several important players to injuries, including Henry Poon — a sophomore scrum-half who, as Cal rugby fans may remember, was instrumental in the 81-0 brutalization of UCLA last March — Sam Golla and Christian Dyer, a senior center and crucial try-scorer. These injuries may test the Bears’ cohesion and flow, which are vital to a successful rugby team.
“It’s going to take a while to develop our accuracy,” Clark said. “We’re pretty vulnerable this year.”
Ultimately, this tournament will test the Bears’ underclassmen, four of whom — three sophomores and a freshman — are on the more experienced team, in part due to the injuries of upperclassmen. “We have a young team,” Clark said. “I sense it will take a strong effort.”
In a rugby sevens tournament there are — as the name would suggest — seven players on the field instead of the usual 15. Moreover, the game is just 14 minutes long, as opposed to the usual 80-minute epic battles that take place in the regular season. Thus, with a couple of errors in crucial moments, a team can quickly fall behind regardless of the quality of the opponent.
“Sevens is a funny thing that way,” Clark said. “It’s a really unforgiving game.”
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].