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Saturday brings perhaps the most storied college rugby matchup this side of Oxford v Cambridge as the University of California hosts the University of British Columbia at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley for the first leg of the two-game "World Cup" series.
The series is so-named because The Vancouver World, a now defunct Vancouver, BC newspaper, used to sponsor the series, which is close to 100 years old. The series began in 1921 and remains a big part of each team's calendar.
"Each year this is the pinnacle of our season," said UBC Coach Dave Johnson. "The players are excited to play a premier American college side, and this is always a tough, competitive game."
In fact, this is, apparently, the game for the UBC alumni. Beating the Bears is what the Thunderbirds are expected to do.
That hasn't been easy of late, as Cal has won 12 of the past 16 games between the two. Many of those Cal victories have been exceptionally close, such as last year at Treasure Island in the mud when a late try gave Cal the 13-12 victory.
"A lot of the games have been close," said Johnson. "And because of that we are confident we can compete with Cal."
"It's a really exciting week for us," said Cal Head Coach Jack Clark. "We appreciate the honor of representing Cal against the Thunderbirds. It's such a privilege to be part of something bigger than oneself. Most importantly, we feel the responsibility to play our guts out."
So far this year, UBC is 2-0 after thrashing Oregon State and edging a tough Vancouver Rowing Club men's team. Cal, on the other hand, has had much more recent game time, winning the Dennis Storer Classic and putting up triple digits on Arizona State, Stanford, and Cal Poly.
Johnson said he is not too worried about rustiness in his team as they have been training hard and know their system. Cal has been lights out so far, but how will they handle the tough, savvy Birds?
Leading the way for UBC is fullback Sean Ferguson, who is, said Johnson, a "points machine." Tighthead prop Neil Courtney is also a standout lineman for the UBC football team. New recruit Connor Hamilton has become the go-to guy in the lineout.
Cal has been superb so far, with center Seamus Kelly a brilliant player in the midfield. Jake Anderson and Anthony Lombardo round out a classy backline. No. 8 Danny Barrett, who scored that late try to beat UBC a year ago, is back, while the Bears seem very happy with their front row of Tanner Mohr, Grant Hyjer and JP Hurrell.
This promises to be a classic clash. The game kicks off at 1pm at Witter Rugby Field on the Cal campus. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults, and worth every penny.