Cal rugby is heading to UC Davis to face off against the Aggies after a successful but imperfect weekend at the Dennis Storer Classic in Los Angeles. Although the Bears left Los Angeles with a perfect 3-0 record, the Bears’ coaching staff was not thrilled because of a rough start to the UCLA game Sunday. Cal was down 3-0 at half, and only after some second-half rallying (partially due to a penalty try) did the Bears assure a victory. Indeed, for the blue and gold that aspire to win a national championship, perfection is a high bar — and not easily attained.
Throughout this early stage of the 15s season, the Bears have tried to get a diverse array of players as much playing time as possible. On Saturday, Cal took advantage of the relatively relaxed tournament atmosphere and the lesser competition — beating UC San Diego 59-7 and UC Santa Cruz 48-3 — to get the underclassmen and second-stringers some playing experience. All 13 freshmen on the team played on Saturday and over the entire weekend 52 players saw playing time, with 41 of them starting.
Coming into the match against the Aggies, Cal was actually expecting to play two matches: one varsity match with starters and one reserve-grade match. Unfortunately, however, the Aggies canceled the reserve-grade match at the last minute, making it unlikely that second-stringers will play this weekend. For Cal’s coaching staff, this is a fairly big impediment to the team’s development heading into the season.
“I am disappointed with the late cancellation of the reserve-grade match. We have players who need to play and with more time we could have scheduled another match,” said head coach Jack Clark in a statement to Cal Bears. “As I mentioned after last weekend, it feels like we are behind a bit and need every competitive minute we can get.”
With the reserve-grade match, it seems the Bears wanted to do the same thing they did in the first day of the Dennis Storer Classic: get needed playing experience to the players who otherwise wouldn’t start. Especially this year, with the losses of key players like Sam Cusano, Christian Dyer and Sam Walsh from injury, it seems the Bears want to build the depth of their bench, and a reserve-grade match against UC Davis would have been perfect for that.
Last January, the Bears mauled the Aggies 136-0; and last April the Bears mauled the Aggies again 141-3. It is safe to say that as soon as the whistle blows at 11 a.m. Saturday, Cal is expected to maul once more at Russell Field. But aside from the mind-blowing scores, these games are valuable testing grounds for the Bears — arenas where the Bears can improve and hone in their game.
15s rugby is a very demanding sport, not only because it involves some brutal physical contact, but all because all 15 men on the field must work together to play perfectly in sync. This level of flow and harmony is only possible with the accumulated experience of playing together in different environments. And before the coming battles against Life Chiropractic and Saint Mary’s, it is clear that the Bears are itching to play as much as possible so that they can perfect their flow and their harmony.
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].