Heading into this weekend’s match against Army, Cal rugby expressed some concerns about how physically fit the Black Knights would be — perhaps one of the fittest teams the Bears play. But rugby is more than just fitness; it’s also an artful sport. And as the blue and gold resoundingly beat No. 13 Army 62-22 Saturday afternoon, it was clear that Cal had the upper hand in both the art of the game and physicality.
It was expected that Army was going to be a physical and extremely well-conditioned team. After all, a lot of exercising and training occurs on the grounds of West Point — on the rugby pitch and in general. Despite its physical prowess, however, Army hadn’t recorded a Division 1-A game in four months. Before the Cal matchup, it was unclear whether Army would come back stronger than expected or just as expected. Clearly, the result of the match shows that Army came back as expected for a team that took a four-month break from Division 1-A rugby.
But the Bears’ victory wasn’t without its challenges. The first half was sloppy for Cal, with Army pressuring the Bears into mistakes and turnovers early on. But the blue and gold quickly gathered themselves and surged into the latter stages of the match behind the leadership of players like Sam Golla, Sam Cusano and Jack Manzo.
In the eighth minute, Golla — the 6’4” lock who head coach Jack Clark once described as having an “All-American” start to his season — busted across the try line, putting the first try of the match on the scoreboard. But Army responded quickly with two tries in the 12th and 20th minutes. The Black Knights made it difficult for the Bears to get into a rhythm in the first half.
But Manzo — the 5’8”, 205-pound stalwart of the Cal scrum — bit back with a try in the 35th minute, which was converted by freshman Max Schumacher. As the first half came to a close, senior wing Cusano led the charge with another try in the 38th minute.
“We had a high turnover account in the first half, plus some poor decision making. Some of these errors can be attributed to Army’s pressure,” Clark said. “In the second half, we just executed slightly better, which accounted for the score line. Still, that performance is far off our potential.”
Cusano, in only his second starting match after an intense leg injury, had an excellent match. As the second half began — right when Cal needed a leader — Cusano led the Bears again with a try in the 44th minute. Schumacher scored another try in the 48th minute, and for the rest of the second half, Cal was unstoppable.
Save for an unconverted try by Army in the 55th minute, the Bears defensively contained the Black Knights and offensively hammered them, fixing some of the elements of Cal’s play that caused Army to lead the match for 15 minutes in the first half. This win marked Clark’s 39th against the U.S. military academies.
This week, the Bears will prepare for a match against Santa Clara. The Broncos have had significant game experience this spring but have been rather unsuccessful as of late. So far, Santa Clara has lost to Cal Poly, Grand Canyon University and UC Santa Barbara — all teams that the Bears would almost certainly beat.
In February 2019 during homecoming weekend, Cal started a mostly frosh-soph lineup against the Broncos. But despite Cal playing an inexperienced squad, the Bears handily beat Santa Clara in a 76-16 victory. This midweek matchup should prove to be no problem for the Bears.
The match against Santa Clara will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Witter Rugby Field.
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].