BERKELEY – No. 1 California (16-1, 5-0 PAC) takes a short trip for a big match Saturday, April 5, against No. 4 St. Mary’s (13-1, 5-0 conf.) in Moraga. Tickets are $10 (ages 12 and under free) to see this rivalry resume at 1 p.m. on Pat Vincent Field.
Game-time temperatures are expected in the mid-60s with sunny skies and winds from the west at 14 mph as the Golden Bears and Gaels play 80 minutes in Cal’s last regular-season match of the spring.
With the Bears’ postseason beginning April 19 in the Super Regional round of the prestigious Varsity Cup National Championships broadcast on NBC, Cal won’t have the opportunity to see the Gaels in the postseason, which happened most recently in a 41-31 win by the Blue and Gold in 2008. But the rivalry continues just the same.
“Our St. Mary’s match is no longer significant in postseason play and the national championship chase, but it is still an important match in the context of the season,” said head coach Jack Clark.
The Bears are recalibrating after last week’s spring break followed their first loss of the season, a difficult defeat that yielded the “World Cup” to UBC. That trip ended a nearly monthlong on-field absence of captain Seamus Kelly, who joined three Cal alumni at the U.S. National Team’s 15s assembly, with all four starting against Uruguay in a March 29 victory that qualified USA for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“Having Seamus back will help, but when going against a strong opponent the occasion calls for a united effort,” said coach Clark. “To be successful we will need players who have never needed to be counted upon, to deliver big performances. A supreme group effort is our best chance.”
While Kelly was away, Cal won the PAC Rugby Conference championship in Salt Lake City over a tough Utah team and dispatched the Ivy champion, Dartmouth, before running up against the Thunderbirds in the return ’Cup’ match. The availability of the 2013 College Player of the Year and four-time All-American certainly boosts the Bears, but even with Kelly back, Cal continues to be impacted by the injury bug, losing two more starters in their last outing in Vancouver.
“We limped away from Vancouver and in truth we are limping into this match,” Clark said. “They say a wounded animal is a dangerous animal. I guess we will see.”
The Gaels are having a strong year and are unbeaten in local play, their only defeat coming March 8 against Varsity Cup power Brigham Young in Provo, where St. Mary’s lost, 35-21. That result by two converted tries came three weeks after St. Mary’s had beaten the then-No. 1 Cougars by six points, 30-24, at home.
“I think they have one of their better sides, very cohesive,” said Clark of the Gaels. “It’s a talented team.”
Cal and St. Mary’s have played several common opponents in their spring 2014 schedules, but the three full matches that stand out came against the Arizona schools, which both the Bears and Gaels traveled to play, and Cal Poly, which the Gaels played at home and the Bears faced in San Luis Obispo.
At Arizona State on February 28, the Bears beat the Sun Devils, 78-18, six weeks after the Gaels’ 59-19 win at ASU. Two days later in Tucson, Cal beat the Wildcats, 78-7, which followed St. Mary’s 76-10 win at Arizona on Jan. 17. On March 1 the Gaels hosted Cal Poly and won, 36-5; just over a week later on March 9, Cal visited the Mustangs and came away with a 95-14 win.
The home team has won the last two meetings in 15s between Bears and Gaels. Last year, Cal took a thriller on Witter Rugby Field, 42-31, while in 2012 on Pat Vincent Field, St. Mary’s came away with a 20-18 decision to end a streak of dominance by the Bears over the Gaels that had stretched 23 years. The all-time series aside, Cal enters Saturday anticipating of a fierce competition.
After this weekend’s regular-season finale, the Rugby Bears will continue to fit their 2014 edition of April Drive into the next two weeks before traveling to the April 19 Varsity Cup Super Regional, where Cal will face the winner of the April 12 first-round clash between UCLA and Oklahoma (see bracket here). Should the Bears advance, they will host an April 26 semifinal against Utah, Air Force or Central Washington on Witter Rugby Field.
The final of the Varsity Cup National Championships takes place Saturday, May 3, in Rio Tinto Stadium outside of Salt Lake City and will be televised live on NBC Sports Network. For tickets and other information, visit VarsityCup.us.
Following the finale of their 15s season, the Bears will return to Philadelphia May 31-June 1 for the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s, also to be broadcast by NBC Sports Network and NBC.
For CRC tickets, please make all purchases via http://www.usasevenscrc.com/tickets/cal.