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Cal arrives in Arizona Thursday evening for two matches in PAC Rugby Conference play, as they take on Arizona State on Friday night and Arizona on Sunday afternoon.
The trip is a big one for the Bears as they can move past Utah into 1st in the conference with two victories. The Utes' next conference game is March 8 against UCLA, who tested Cal on Saturday. UCLA led Cal 10-0 thanks to a series of Cal errors, and some aggressive play from the Bruins. Cal emerged from halftime determined to change things, and scored 32 unanswered points to win 32-10.
"We had half a dozen uncharacteristic handling errors," Cal Head Coach Jack Clark told RUGBYMag.com. "We made some kicking errors, also, and we had a 9-0 penalty count against us. The team had a hard time at the breakdown. At the same time, UCLA is a tough team to break down. Scott Stewart has done a great job with them. Their first-up tackling is very good and it is really hard to finish against them. So with all that, we felt being down only 10-0 at halftime was a godsend."
Clark said the halftime talk with his players involved a little bit of telling the players that they know how to play better, and then it moved into just breaking the game down as they always do.
"Sure part of it was, come on, we shouldn't be making these mistakes, but our lineout was functioning well. We were awkward in the scrum – we were standing up and de-powering our scrum so we needed to fix that – and we had a fair amount of effort. It was just our accuracy," said Clark.
Lesson learned for a team that has started quite well, including beating a University of British Columbia that is 11-0 in the BC Men's Okanagan Spring Brewery League (where Seattle-OPSB is 9-1). Clark said he would have liked to have seen his players a little more seasoned before they faced the Thunderbirds, but they handled it. Now this weekend, the Bears will have to adjust to some obstacles, again.
"This will be an opportunity for us to test a lot of players," said Clark, who will expect to be without captain Seamus Kelly for part of the season as he is likely to be called up to the USA National Team for the World Cup Qualifiers in March. This weekend, senior fullback Jake Anderson and sophomore flyhalf Russell Webb will be unavailable due to injury, while senior center Jared Braun and senior lock Pat Coleman are being held out as well.
Cal will likely have several new starters this weekend, but Clark said he likes to have flexibility in his squad anyway, because injuries have a habit of showing up at key moments. Center Brad Harrington could well get some time at flyhalf, while Nick Salaber and Harry Adolphus, both sophomores, will share time at fullback.
Cal is taking 48 players to play four games (2nd grade matches for both).
Meanwhile, Arizona and Arizona State have their own rugby to worry about. Both have challenging schedules this spring, with Arizona State adding BYU to their slate in The Rugby Bowl, a new event in Tucson showcasing major college rugby matchups.
Right now, both would settle for some Ws, as Arizona is 0-1 and Arizona State 0-2 in conference play.
The Bears and Devils (2-3, 0-2 PAC) will meet Friday night on ASU's Polytechnic Campus in Mesa, Ariz. Coached by Gary Lane, Arizona State beat Cal Poly, 24-5, Feb. 15 but dropped its two conference tests so far this spring, losing at UCLA Feb. 1 and at Utah Feb. 8. The Sun Devils earned a bonus point for scoring four tries in their 46-23 losing effort against the Utes. Arizona State's first loss came Jan. 19 at the hands of now-No. 1 Saint Mary's, 56-19.
Arizona (1-2, 0-1 PAC) held it closer against Utah in their only PAC match to date, falling 17-7 on Jan. 24 at the Las Vegas Invitational, and beat then-No. 16 Air Force, 25-19, at home on Feb. 14. The Wildcats, helmed by first-year head coach Sean Duffy following the passing of legendary coach David Sitton, have also taken on Saint Mary's (a 76-10 loss) so far in their schedule. Sunday's noontime match against the 'Cats at the Rincon Vista Sports Complex (venue map:http://goo.gl/maps/EMkij) is forecasted for a high of 66 degrees with 20-mph winds and a 50 percent chance of rain.
The other PAC match over the weekend takes place Saturday, March 1, in Los Angeles, where No. 8 UCLA (1-1 in conference play) hosts Oregon State (0-2).