For some successful teams, blowing an opponent out of the water is a mythical moment — a culmination of the season’s hard work, a reward for those chilly early morning runs, concrete proof that you are the best.
While the Cal rugby squad may have justifiably felt some of those feelings after annihilating the UC Davis Aggies 137-0 last Saturday, that level of domination is also expected from the dynastic Golden Bear rugby program — a team that has won 33 national championships since 1980. Indeed, by their standards, that was a typical weekend for Cal rugby.
Before the Aggies knew what hit them, a Bear — Henry Poon to be exact — scored in the third minute. Then another. And another. And another. And another. The Bears came pounding down the field, like a fierce and furious herd, marching the ball to the try zone again and again; 21 times over 80 minutes. These tries were scored by a diverse spread of 18 different players; five freshman also scored their first Cal 15s tries.
The Aggies scored zero points.
Riding the momentum of a 3-0 record at the Dennis Storer Classic in Los Angeles, No. 2 ranked Cal started the game with a relatively mixed squad of upper and lower classmen. But after 11 tries from a variety of players — ranging from junior All-American Jack Manzo and freshman Max Schumacher — it was clear this was a good opportunity to get just the young players playing time. Thus, the Bears decided to switch to an all frosh-soph team at half.
The frosh-soph second-half switch didn’t really make it easier on UC Davis, however. In the second half, 10 tries were scored, only one short of the 11 tries scored in the first half. Max Clark, a freshman who was a valuable asset during the 7s season in the fall, and Jake Broekhuizen, a sophomore, both scored two tries apiece. Freshman Nate Salter was able to convert seven out of the 10 tries scored.
This type of score is not unusual in Cal-Davis matchups. The Bears faced off with the Aggies twice last season, once in January and once in April. The scores of those games were 136-0 and 141-3.
In the coming week, Cal will prepare to travel down south for a similar matchup against the SDSU Warriors. Unlike UC Davis, SDSU did not cancel the reserve-grade match, likely providing some relief for the Cal coaching staff that was frustrated with the Aggies’ cancellation.
This early in the season, and against low-risk teams, the Bears seek opportunities to get underclassmen playing experience. Reserve-grade matches against low-tier teams are perfect opportunities to get underclassmen valuable playing experience.
It is almost guaranteed that Cal will handily beat SDSU. Last February, the Bears scored 20 tries against the Warriors, totaling 120 points.
Cal, however, will not always have it this easy. The Bears are set to play some great teams — including Saint Mary’s and the University of British Columbia — as the full 15s season hits in early February. Thus far, the blue and gold has been looking like its old self, on the road to another national championship. But as the long season progresses, only time will tell.
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].