Although rugby XVs — and even more so VIIs — is considered a fast-paced sport, time for preparation is sometimes the most precious asset for a rugby team to give its best in an 80-minute contest on the field.
Cal’s bye week will be instrumental for head coach Jack Clark’s players to prepare for a much-awaited home game against Bay Area opponents Saint Mary’s, relocated to Witter Rugby Field due to poor field conditions in Moraga.
The narrow defeat at Navy two weeks ago did not only hand Cal its first defeat in the XV’s season — it also demonstrated the team’s struggles to maintain high performance standards against potential championship contenders.
Cal’s porous defense conceded 21 second-half points to the Midshipmen despite leading 14-12 at halftime. The almost-superb comeback in the final minutes came too late to upset the No. 1 ranked program in the nation.
Another weak point in Cal’s performance was its substandard defense on mauls next to its in-goal area, which indirectly resulted in a brace of tries from Navy’s forwards. Windy weather was unfavorable to Cal in the first half, with Navy’s kicking game for territorial occupation outpacing the Bears’ defense.
But it is best to remember that the defeat at Navy is the blue and gold’s first in XVs since last April against Saint Mary’s in the West Region National Semifinals.
Saint Mary’s powered off with four consecutive tries to advance to 28-5 at halftime. Cal’s furious comeback featured three tries, but the Bears eventually fell short of another national collegiate title.
The blue and gold have since built on this loss in their 2022-2023 season, only losing two times: against the Gaels in the West Coast Collegiate 7s and against the Midshipmen two weeks ago in Annapolis.
Saint Mary’s, a rival of Cal’s rugby program, is visiting Strawberry Canyon with a 4-0 record in the California Conference. Its England & Ireland tour saw the Gaels face prominent European rugby programs, with wins at Oxford University and against Trinity College U20s side. More recently, the East Bay team conceded its first defeat in 21 years against the Central Washington Wildcats and won in a tight contest against the BYU Cougars, Cal’s last opponent in the regular season.
Nothing is more fitting than to say that Saturday’s game will determine if Cal has the capacity to navigate the road to the national championship.
More than ever, defensive solidity will be key for the Bears if they hope to relaunch their winning streak. Clark’s players can try to frustrate the Gaels — just as much as they did in early March against Army — with their disciplined game management, which was detrimental for Saint Mary’s in its Central Washington loss.
Offensive patterns and clinical scoring will also be significant at Witter Rugby Field next weekend. Until now, co-captain Max Schumacher’s backline has showcased impressive try-filled performances to maintain Cal leads. Against an esteemed Gaels defensive wall, backs will be eager to run the show in front of the large crowd expected at Strawberry Canyon.
Players can also thank the elements for the opportunity to play in front of their families and friends, which will undeniably bring additional motivation to the local rivalry.
Due to conflicting kickoff time with Cal softball on the neighboring Levine-Fricke Field, the game is set to start at noon instead of Cal rugby’s usual 1:00pm kickoff.