The Bears’ best defensive effort of the season, along with the passing and kicking of star senior Russell Webb, propelled the Cal rugby team to a road victory over Saint Mary’s, 27-14, to earn the Bears’ premier win of their season. Webb, who hadn’t started in almost a month, was the maestro of an offense that outplayed Saint Mary’s, considered to be a top team by all and the best in the country by some.
“I was shaking a few cobwebs off in the last game (coming off the bench against UCLA), but I’m protected by the best boys on my team,” Webb said. “I have full confidence playing with everyone around me and they make me better.”
On and off rain throughout the morning left the field at St. Mary’s Stadium swampy and the ball incredibly difficult to handle for both teams. The first 20 minutes of the game found Cal struggling to move the ball on offense and narrowly avoiding a few close tries from the Gaels. Webb then seemed to find his footing and took over the offensive flow of the game, beautifully kicking the slippery ball to give Cal deep field position on line-outs.
With about 10 minutes left to go in the first half, a mishandled ball on one such line-out ended with junior flanker Drew Gaffney nearly barreling in for a try. Stopped just inches out, the ball then ended up in the hands of Webb, who perfectly bent the Gaels’ staunch defense to give senior Harry Adolphus enough space to dive in for the first score of the game. Adolphus missed a difficult conversion, and in the tough conditions, the Bears finished with only one made kick on the day.
Just before the half ended, Webb once again used his feet to give the Bears deep position and moved the defenders with the ball in his hands to give junior Evan Coleman a chance to break a tackle and score a try, giving the Bears a 10-0 lead going into halftime.
Seconds before the second-half kickoff, rain began in torrents, making the second half even more full of slips and drops than the first. Saint Mary’s All-American back Dylan Audsley took advantage of the confusion the conditions seemed to wreck on Cal’s defense and broke through every level of the Bears to score a try less than 10 minutes into the half. A bizarre call by the refs a few minutes later gave the Gaels a penalty try and a 14-10 lead.
At the 67th minute mark, unphased by the deficit, Webb and Coleman once again proved a dynamic duo, with Coleman scoring his second try of the day to give the Bears a 17-14 lead. Cal never gave the lead up, as the defense shut down the desperate Gaels and the offense added two more tries in the last minutes. Senior George Vrame’s try at the 73rd minute mark led to a more demonstrative celebration than you’ll usually see from the Bears, showing the emotions of a team who knew the importance of the match they had just clinched.
“The guys came out today and expanded under pressure,” said senior Anthony Salaber. “We knew what had to get done, we knew Saint Mary’s is an extremely difficult opponent, and the way we see it, this is the game leading up to the National Championships.”