Jack Clark's Report on this Season
Now in his fourteenth season at California, Jack Clark is the premier coach on the American college rugby scene today. His intensity and motivational skills make his squads among the best conditioned and best prepared teams in the country.
Clark took over the head coaching job in 1984 after serving as an assistant coach from 1980-'83. He has led the Bears to 10 National Collegiate Championships. At the end of the 1996 season, his Bears showed an overall record of 235-50-4. Against American opponents, Clark's record is even better; Cal has lost only one game against teams from the states since 1990.
Clark founded the University All-America program in 1987, a selection made at the end of each season. In 1993, he became coach for the U.S. Eagles, the national touring side. As a player, he competed for the Eagles as a lock in the late 1970s and, in 1980, was named a lock to the World 15 Squad, the best 15 players in the world at that time. Clark played defensive tackle for Cal on Mike White's 7-4 team in 1977 and, a 1978 Cal graduate, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles .
97 Outlook: "We are returning a talented team that was tested as an underclassmen team last year. They passed that test with flying colors. There were some points in last season where we were a pretty mediocre rugby team, but by the end of the year, we were clearly the best team in the country.
"So the issue is: where do we start this year? Do we start this year where we ended last, or do we back track and start as still a young team? There will still be a lot of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. There will be no more than 5-6 seniors in the top 30 mix. I don't think we can take for granted that we will play like a seasoned team of returning champions. We have to put some work into 1997 before we regain the form we enjoyed at the end of1996.
Players: "There are some stand outs on the team. (Scrum half) Kevin Dalzell is an extraordinary young rugby player and I think a good leader. Katsu Takei is an excellent fullback and Dave Stroble at the fly half position is a very good footballer. If you look at the skill positions on the team we are quite well served.
"The forwards, although possibly not a dominant group, should be consistent performers. There shouldn't be many days when they are bettered on the field. The development of the forwards will probably be a real key to our success. If they can consistently win ball, then we'll be a good team.
"Probably the biggest question marks on the team lie in the centers. We'll have a new midfield. (Outside center) Vinh Phanh did a good job last year as a transfer student, but has some work to do in becoming as good a player as he can be.
"The next concern is depth. Players are injured in rugby and you can't count on 15 guys to carry you to a national championship. We would like to think that we can become two deep at every position and it'll depend on how quickly some of the new players come on.
"Finally, it depends on whether the team will have the magic that championship teams have; the willingness not to take short-cuts, to not rely on their talents, and to develop a blue-collar work ethic.
Tactics: "There have been some law changes that promote a more expansive game. Last year, as a young team, our tactics were very much centered around field position. This year we are going to be more expansive especially in the middle of the field and we'll be happy not to kick the ball at all.
"We've laid in a pattern of play on top of field position tactics that should make us an more exciting team to watch and certainly I think the boys will enjoy keeping the ball in hand more."
Philosophy: "If you had to say what's the philosophy behind the success of our program over the years it has been that our approach is very much performance based rather than result based. If we lose a game and we feel that our performance was adequate or good, we find a degree of satisfaction in that. Onthe other hand, even when we enjoy major victories where the point margin flatters us, it is possible that we find very little satisfaction in those wins if our performance wasn't up to expectations. In some ways we are trying to do something throughout the regular season that is quite impossible and that is to be perfect. We put a lot of energy into that 'unrealisitc' goal, but it is our desire to be perfect that consistently allows us to be a championship caliber team come May
Halfway through the season, on the eve of a crucial match with Stanford, we talked with Coach Clark again about how the team is developing...
"I'd say I'm relatively pleased with how the team is positioned. I will admit that I'm not so sure we have the urgency we need to win a championship--we haven't proved that urgency as a team. So I'm not without some concern.
"But we've gotten by (Davis) one of our most difficult league opponents and we are well positioned to be the number one seed out of the Pacific Coast Conference heading into the national championships.
"I do have concerns about our fitness at this stage of the season. I think we are slightly behind where we should be and I think that might affect that urgency we are showing. Certainly, we let games that were well in hand get away from us against the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia and that suggests we've got work to do.