No. 1 Cal rugby defended its undefeated record Saturday with a 54-21 win over No. 15 UCLA, taking control of the PAC conference.
The Bears now lead with 10 points in the standings after beating Arizona and UCLA by a combined 117 points. The Bruins trail with 7, while Arizona and Utah bring up the rear with 5 and 0, respectively. UCLA has completed its conference slate, meaning it can no longer pass Cal for the lead.
The Bears got off to a fast start in Pasadena, scoring 28 unanswered in the first half. The Bruins found their legs in attack after the break, but a second-half hat trick from senior wing Nick Bloom kept Cal well clear of the underdogs as they coasted to their fifth win by 30 or more points in six regular-season matches. Bloom also scored the match winner against No. 5 BYU the previous week, giving him four tries in his last 81 minutes of rugby.
One of the standouts for the blue and gold was sophomore outside center Will Shankland. He was often lined up opposite Lucas Lacamp, the Bruins’ star center who has appeared for the U.S. national sevens team.
“Shankland basically shutdown UCLA’s best player,” said head coach Jack Clark in an email. “He was superb in his defense and he was effective in attack. He had a few line breaks and he’s adept at putting the ball through his hands. He’s pretty good right now and his future is elite promising.”
Two of the Bears’ other stars returned to the positions where they started the season Saturday. All-American fifth-year player Jack Manzo, who started at tighthead prop the last two games, returned to hooker where he started the season. Clark said that Manzo’s ability to play both positions is “special,” and also complimented Nathan Zylstra, who returned to openside flanker after playing two matches at hooker.
“Zylstra is among the fittest and best players on our team,” Clark said. “We aren’t the same team without Nate, we need him.”
Zylstra and Manzo have both been among the Bears’ most reliable forwards, with each starting the team’s last five matches and playing well. Describing them as “physically hard and mentally tough,” Clark made it clear that the two players already boast legendary legacies with Cal.
The Bears will host No. 7 Central Washington on Friday.
Similarly to UCLA last week, the Wildcats are coming off a near upset of No. 2 St. Mary’s. The Gaels visited Central Washington on Saturday, and the Wildcats built a 27-8 second-half lead before giving up three unanswered tries to finish the match. St. Mary’s scored the last of the three as time expired to take their only lead of the game and seal the victory.
Clark described Central Washington as a “legit contender” with good coaching and plenty of experience brought by several grad students on the roster.
“The team coming in, CWU, is similar to BYU in that they are a very physical side,” Clark said. “They ask questions of every team they play. They have a good mix of international students and domestics.”
The Wildcats come into the match with a 5-2 record, with the two losses coming in the match against St. Mary’s and another close defeat at the hands of BYU. They have two more matches against top-five teams, and they will attempt to prove against Cal and No. 3 Army that they can consistently overcome elite competition.
Cal, meanwhile, will have a chance to cement its status as the nation’s best against Central Washington with a conference matchup against Utah and a showdown against rival St. Mary’s on the horizon. It may also get senior scrumhalf Henry Poon back from injury this week after he missed the last three games, according to Clark.
The Bears will be in action at 6 p.m. Friday, March 11 at Witter Rugby Field.