Things haven’t been normal for the Bears as of late. Following three straight losses to nationally ranked opponents, Cal rugby has been without the momentum symbolic of the early part of the season and propelled the Bears to a 7-0 start.
Now 7-3 in full-time XVs matches, the blue and gold are looking to stop the bleeding. This weekend’s matchup against Cal Poly provides just that — an opportunity for the blue and gold to flip the script on the past month and restart their momentum heading deeper into the playoffs. But it also comes with a new risk: elimination.
This weekend marks the start of the D1A National Collegiate Championship tournament. Cal is ranked No. 3 in the west, while Cal Poly is the final, sixth seed, of the western region. Saturday’s game between the Bears and the Mustangs is considered a play-in game, with the winner earning the right to travel to Moraga to face St. Mary’s.
This bracket features some familiar foes for the Bears as well. On the east resides No. 1-seeded Navy as well as No. 4 Army. Cal beat Army earlier this season but lost to Navy, a team now considered to be the best team in the nation.
The last few weeks have been hectic for the Bears. Between their games against Navy, St. Mary’s and BYU, Cal has traveled across the country, changed match locations and moved around match dates. The blue and gold have done well to weather so many of these adjustments at the end of the season, but the most recent change had the biggest impact on their record.
Instead of traveling to its final regular-season game with a full roster, Cal’s trip to BYU fell victim to yet another change of plans. Postseason seedings were released a week ahead of schedule, and as playoff matchups were already set in stone before kickoff, Cal head coach Jack Clark opted to send an entirely different starting XV to Provo.
And while the reserve Bears suffered what was, on paper, the worst loss of the season, there may be a silver lining.
The XV that is expected to ascend the steps of Memorial Stadium this Saturday is a much more seasoned unit — one that has been at the grindstone since suffering a tough loss to Bay Area rival St. Mary’s on March 25. This group will be determined to put the Bears in the win column once again and advance for another crack at the Gaels.
As the sixth seed, the Mustangs are a long shot to advance to the next round. For Cal Poly, though, this game is as good an opportunity as any to pull off a coveted win against Cal rugby, a western powerhouse of the sport.
That being said, the odds are not looking in favor of the Mustangs. For those trying to use history to predict the upset of the postseason, Cal’s 138-5 thrashing over Cal Poly in its last full XVs game in 2019 might keep anyone from picking the underdog.
But, for the reeling Bears, turning in a similar statement win to open the postseason surely wouldn’t hurt.
If Cal’s previous matchups this year against teams such as Navy and St. Mary’s are any indication, this year’s postseason looks to be full of great rugby. All the Bears need to do now is get into the dance.
The Bears will kick off against Cal Poly at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley, which will also be available to watch on a live stream via the Pac-12’s website.