March has finally arrived. Although the cold weather still persists in Berkeley, warmer temperatures should heat Strawberry Canyon for Cal to host defending D1A National Champions Army in what looks like a playoff showdown.
Cal remains undefeated with a 9-0 record in the Spring XV season, following a 36-17 conference win against the Arizona Wildcats. As expected, the first half was balanced: Both teams exploited their well-rounded offensive patterns as Cal only led by 5 points at the intermission, 17-12. Cal prevailed in the second half and scored three tries, including a brace from flanker Cal Liebowitz. For the homecoming celebration, the Bears’ winning objective was once again achieved fashionably.
Now, Cal’s gears are switched to its game against Army, which holds a 7-2 record but has not lost since a matchup against Lindenwood in November. Although their trip to California is their first Spring XV match, the Black Knights are eager to end Cal’s invincible season and extend their 2023 winning season streak.
The last contest between Cal and Army happened in March 2020, where head coach Jack Clark’s players outpaced the military academy 62-22. Fullback Max Schumacher was the only current Bear in the starting XV, logging a try and six conversions to bring his point tally to 17 after the 80-minute game.
Nevertheless, Army has since improved its rugby program, claiming the D1A national championship last year after edging out St Mary’s in the final. Saturday’s clash will determine how Cal can measure itself next to top-ranked teams.
“It’s a good Army team, they are the defending national champions for a reason,” said Clark in an email. “We have always had tough, highly competitive matches with Army and Saturday will be as difficult as ever.”
To face Army, Cal can count on a very competitive pool of players, both new-coming and experienced. Starting lineups in the Spring XV’s season have been inconsistent, but the quality has never been lacking for Cal’s rugby program.
“We will continue to rotate a few players, likely be a few new faces in the lineup, which is partly for reasons of injury as well as up and down performances,” Clark said.
Performance-wise, the blue and gold will have to elevate their standards if they want to dictate their game patterns at home. Cal conceded more than two tries for the first time in the spring season against the Wildcats.
Conversely, their offensive displays have been consistent and convincing, as evidenced by the try-filled afternoons every weekend since the XV’s season resumed in January. Try scorers have varied between forwards and backward and occurred during perfectly-ran plays.
“The key is to better look after our possessions,” said Clark. “If we make silly turnovers deep in our own half, we are going to leak tries. If we can eliminate or greatly reduce those errors it shows on the scoreboard.”
Saturday will definitely be a high-stakes afternoon for the 23 Bears lined up to take on reigning champions Army. If Cal emerges victorious, it can advance into March with momentum and realistically aim for a winning playoff raid in the late Spring. However, a defeat would resonate as a sudden stop and force Cal to review its failing patterns.
Kickoff is scheduled against Army this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley, and a reserve-grade match will follow. The game will be broadcasted by Cal Live Stream-5.