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BERKELEY'S NEWS • JUNE 02, 2023

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Challenges ahead: Cal hosts Arizona

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JONATHAN HALE | SENIOR STAFF

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FEBRUARY 23, 2023

The second half of the season is here, and so are the challenges for the Bears. This Saturday, Cal will host its fourth of five straight home games: this time against the Arizona Wildcats.

For the Bears, who now sit at a record of 8-0, the past month of the season has been without a lot of the challenge and adversity that one might expect. To start the schedule, Cal has been able to take control of matches early and often, only trailing for a stretch in the first half of its eventual 50-13 blowout win against UCLA. Most recently, the Bears deconstructed Utah rugby to a final score of 119-6. This weekend, though, the blue and gold will face much stiffer competition.

The traveling Wildcats have faced a little more adversity than Cal in recent weeks. In its last outing, Arizona dropped a game to a talented BYU team. 38-13. For reference, BYU is nationally ranked No. 8, while Cal is ranked No. 4. In a more tangible measure, the No. 13 Wildcats also took on Utah just a week before the Bears, and came away with a 95-5 win on Feb. 4. Arizona looks to be able to stack up well to a Cal team that has been running through its opponents.

“I think the teams are relatively close, we have to acknowledge that they are good and that they’ve had some good results”, says Cal head coach Jack Clark.

Like many teams Cal has faced this season, the Bears and Wildcats have shared many matchups in years’ past. During the VIIs season, both teams competed against each other for the Treasure Island and Pac Rugby Sevens titles — games that Cal won handily. But this isn’t to discount the Wildcat’s full XV who, as Clark notes, will look to make it close.

“They’re going to be good. They’re a very capable side and as the game unfolds whoever deals with whatever bits of adversity that the game presents best probably has a bit of an advantage,” said Clark.

In a scope outside of just this Saturday’s game, this weekend begins the start of the second half of the season, a five week gauntlet against some of the top ranked teams in the nation. Upcoming is a home game against Army and a road trip to Maryland to take on Navy. This stretch also includes a bout against the top-10 Cougars of BYU.

As the blue and gold gear up for the long month ahead, a few Bears are expected to immediately contribute upon return from injury, including Junior Prop Charlie Walsh.While the roster returns to full strength and the regular season enters its final stages, Cal’s wealth of talent will continue to split time in an effort to give experience to newcomers and underclassmen. In that spirit, this Saturday will also feature a reserve grade match.

Back to the main card this weekend, expect the Wildcats to play with high energy in hopes of getting off to an early lead, just as UCLA did two weeks ago. All that remains is to keep pace with a Cal attack which eclipsed 100 points scored against Utah. Few teams have been able to punch first against Cal. And for the Wildcats to have success, they must be the first to weather a return volley from the Bears. For Clark, the keys to the game are simple.

“We need to put a lot of energy into our rugby, for sure. I’m not sure we did that with UCLA, but I think it was better with Utah,” said Clark. “We’re looking for good play, tough play, energetic play, highly skilled play.”

The blue and gold should have no problem finding the motivation for Saturday’s game, as Witter Rugby Field will be celebrating homecoming and national champions from Cal rugby past. To get to that summit, the Bears will have to begin their ascent on even footing and take care of business against the Wildcats.

Catch Cal and Arizona this Saturday at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley or on pac-12.com.

Contact Ryan Sheehan at 

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FEBRUARY 23, 2023