Consider this scenario: You’re Rocky Balboa. You’re mean, athletic, but also a multidimensional human being with feelings. You’ve been fighting some wimpy guys from around your hometown for a couple months. All of the fights have been third-minute knockouts: no problem. But you’ve been getting ready for your annual heavyweight fight against the Russian Ivan Drago. And that day has come. It will be brutal, but you’ve got something to prove — you’re going to fight until the end.
The University of British Columbia is Cal’s Ivan Drago, a competitive squad from beyond the border that will bring its best against the blue and gold.
After coming off a solid victory over the Arizona Wildcats last weekend, the blue and gold (8-0) are aiming to remind the Canadian team that the Bears are beasts to be reckoned with.
But a victory on homecoming weekend will by no means be an easy task for Cal. UBC, which is widely known as one of the top collegiate teams in Canada, and Cal have a history of competitive matchups. In February of last year, the Bears squeezed out a 24-22 victory over the Thunderbirds. The match was in Strawberry Canyon and was marked by both an impressive first half and slightly weaker second half from Cal.
But the Thunderbirds are a high-quality team, and high-quality teams do not go down easily. A week after last February’s Strawberry Canyon game, the Bears lost to UBC 28-24 in Vancouver. Again, it was a battle — Cal trailed by 7 at half, but was able to rally after the break. The teams traded blows, but when the dust settled, Cal trailed by four.
These two matches illustrate the intensity and grit both teams bring to the match. Cal and UBC are among the very best collegiate teams in their respective countries, a legacy which gives the annual match some extra weight.
“Recently they have been a bit older than us and a very physical side,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “We will need to match their physicality to the best of our ability.”
Thus far in the season, it appears Cal has been itching to play a truly challenging team — not UCLA or UC Davis, but a team that could test the Bears. The UBC match seems like a perfect opportunity for this season’s team to get a sense of where it stands in comparison to other top tier collegiate teams.
“I think we are among the top-10 teams. I think for us to confidently compete with the top few teams we need to take a big step,” said Clark. “I’m optimistic we can take this step, but it’s not something to talk about, it’s something we need to do.”
There’s reason for the Bears to be optimistic. Sam Cusano, a standout wing making his return from injury, played in the Arizona game and scored a try in the 23rd minute. Moreover, the Bears have delivered solid performances against Arizona and UCLA; of course, these performances were imperfect by Cal rugby standards, but solid nonetheless.
One can be sure to expect feisty performances in this international rivalry. And perhaps more importantly, the match will be a real big-game test for the Bears before the coming battles against Saint Mary’s and, potentially, Life Chiropractic later in the spring.
“Obviously, it will be our most challenging opponent to date,” Clark said. “It will be a steep step-up in competition.”
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].