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With the 46-19 win over Utah on Saturday, Cal captured its fourth consecutive PAC Conference title. Traveling to Salt Lake City, Utah for the match, the Bears shuffled the lineup and produced eight tries. Cal’s experience and a punishing scrum worked to their benefit opening up the backs to score six times. Each team will now prepare for the opening round of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship that kicks on April 9th. Cal draws Texas in its first test and Utah will play Air Force.
Recovering from a brutal 50-3 loss to the University of British Columbia last weekend, the Bears hoped to rebound against Utah. “We had to shake off a very difficult defeat,” Cal head coach Jack Clark said. “Going on the road against a solid team like Utah after that defeat was a bit of an ask for the guys and they came through that pretty well.”
“We scrummed well and put them under some pressure in the scrum,” Clark stated as the one of the keys to the game. “Our backs were pretty efficient. Once we made a line break, we finished off several of those breaks with some pretty good hands. When there was a try on offer, we rang the bell and we were pleased with that.”
The Bears built a 24-9 halftime lead behind tries from Karl Thornton, Anthony Salaber (2), and James Kondrat. Flyhalf Russell Webb was two for four on his conversions in the period. Utah’s Josh Weber slotted three penalty kicks to keep his team only down by 15 points.
In the second half, Cal outscored the Utes four tries to two to win the game, 46-19. Jesse Milne notched two scores and Lucas Dunne and Thomas Robles were the benefactors of the others. Utah’s Scholz Award nominee Chad Gough scored two tries for his team in the half.
Utah assistant coach Jon Law echoed that scrums were difficult for the Utes. “They absolutely destroyed our scrum. A big part of that is the experience factor. The scrum is very technical and first year players don’t get the little nuances that are going to be exploited by a team with that amount of experience. That was a big deal as we lost 75% of our scrums. Its tough to recover from not having any platform ball.”
Although they did lose the game, Coach Law did see a silver lining. “It’s hard to feel good about a loss. We’re a competitive group, we play to win, but all things considered with the level of experience between the two clubs, we came out of this one with our heads held fairly high.”
“Cal was the better team, they were more polished and more prepared,” Law added. “They had players that knew their roles and executed them better. Overall given the level of experience we were able to put on the pitch, I was very pleased with the level of effort and intensity and strides that were made by some very young boys.”
With a try playing at a new position, Thomas Robles earned the Cal player of the game. “We played him at No. 8, he’s been playing blindside flanker,” Clark remarked. “He’s getting through a quite bit of work being new to the game. His instincts aren’t hardwired, but he is getting better at looking for moments where he can impact the game.”
Coach Clark indicated there is plenty of work to do before the postseason and it starts with a warm-up match against Stanford next Wednesday. “I told the team afterwards that we made it hard on ourselves a few times. We’re not always taking the best option whether it’s to keep the ball in hand or kick ahead. Play the game in a more controlled way. At times, it was a bit sloppy for us, but [Utah] is a pretty solid outfit, so you got to play well to beat them. All in all, it was a solid performance.”