BERKELEY – With the opening match of the “World Cup” series looming for Saturday against the British Columbia Thunderbirds, California will send a mixed lineup that skews heavy on youth and light on experience to play the Cardinal at Steuber Rugby Stadium Thursday at 6 p.m. in Stanford.
Stanford is coached by former Golden Bear player and assistant coach Matt Sherman, one of the 126 Cal All-Americans coached by Jack Clark during their careers in Blue and Gold, and also one of the 36 Cal players under Clark to play for the U.S. National Team.
The Bears have effectively divided their squad to tackle the next two matches, sending a mostly underclassmen lineup to The Farm while holding in reserve a projected lineup to face the T-Birds.
Currently on an 18-match win streak against the Cardinal since Stanford last bested Cal for the Scrum Axe in 1996, the Bears will feature their least-experienced scrumhalf, Lucas Dunne, at No. 9, sandwiched between two freshmen in No. 8 Connor Sweet and flyhalf Jamie Howells. Three sophomores – fullback Anthony Salaber, wing Christian Hess and outside center Patrick Barrientes – will staff the backline with seniors Sam Weston Welch at the other center and Max Shaulis at the other wing.
Second-year hooker Blake Haynes is slated to start in the front row with junior Scott Walsh at loosehead prop and freshman Henry Baylor at tighthead. The upperclassmen who comprise the rest of the forward pack – seniors Alex Bowman and Zack Purdy at the locks, and junior Nick Salaber and senior match-day captain Kenny Bruzzone as flankers – will look to jell with their younger teammates to put in a good performance under the lights Thursday night.
The Bears are 6-0 entering the match for the Scrum Axe and have yielded only 2.1 points per game while scoring almost that much per minute (1.4). Stanford comes into Thursday night with a record of 1-3, having beaten University of San Diego, 19-17, in their spring 15s opener.
Their one common opponent, Oregon State, defeated the Cardinal, 20-13, on Feb. 2, one day after Cal scored 22 unanswered tries in its win over the Beavers.
All that data can be thrown out in light of the fact that Thursday’s match carries on the oldest intercollegiate competition between Stanford University and the University of California, a rivalry that, despite its lopsided recent history, pays respect to the fierce competition and high achievement that both programs have put forth and earned over their total histories dating back to the late 19th Century.
Following training on Thursday morning for players forecasted for the UBC match and the evening’s Scrum Axe contest, the Bears lineup that faced Stanford will be back in Strawberry Canyon training with their teammates to prepare for the first leg of the annual series vs. UBC, a two-match competition since 1921 that is decided by total points scored and named the “World Cup” for the Vancouver World newspaper.