April 10, 2012
BERKELEY - California and Saint Mary's meet Sunday at 1 p.m. on Pat Vincent Field in an exciting contest between two of the top rugby programs in the nation.
The Gaels, who left for a spring tour with a 9-2 record, are in the midst of one their best seasons in recent memory. They will be hunting for their second win against the Golden Bears (15-1) in the last 33 years. Since 1980, Cal has beaten Saint Mary's every time in the regular season and playoffs except once, a 1988 regular-season match played in Moraga.
"We are excited to play the match. Saint Mary's is an excellent team that plays its best rugby at home," said head coach Jack Clark. "It's one of those really good sporting challenges that comes around every so often."
The two teams have shared six common opponents in 2012: Utah, Stanford, Sacramento State, UCLA, Cal Poly and the University of British Columbia. Both Cal and Saint Mary's have won five of those six matches.
Saint Mary's lost to British Columbia, 31-14, on Feb. 21, two days after Cal edged the Thunderbirds on Treasure Island and a little more than a month before the Bears brought home their sixth straight "World Cup" series from Canada with a 46-20 win at UBC. Cal was defeated by a team the Gaels beat when the Bears lost to Cal Poly, 22-20 on Feb. 25 in San Luis Obispo, using a largely reserve-grade team.
The No. 8 position is a major question mark for the Bears on Sunday because the superb Danny Barrett is out with a season-ending injury. Clark has previously called Barrett the best collegiate player in America. Flyhalf Alex Aronson is another uncertainty as he continues to work his way back into the starting lineup after a prolonged injury absence.
Only four current Bears likely to play on Sunday - outside center Seamus Kelly, scrumhalf Connor Ring, prop Jeremy Deterding and lock Brendan Daly - would have faced the Gaels in their last 15-a-side meeting, a 60-34 Cal win one year ago in Moraga. Ring and Deterding are the only members of the Starting XV who will graduate this spring, leaving the Bears with the vast majority of its roster intact for the 2013 season.
"The development of this particular team has been fantastic to see," coach Clark said. "We have steadily gained the type of maturity which accomplished teams carry with them into competition. We aren't all that yet, but there is some very real promise to this team."
Asked about his involvement in matches between the Bears and Gaels, Deterding called it "great to have this rivalry so close to us, a great challenge that we look forward to. We all know that each one of us is going to put in the effort. It's about leaving it all on the field and doing it together, all of us."
Ring added that the rivalry's high energy needs to be tempered by an even-keeled approach.
"You can't get too excited before every game. You've got to stay focused and not be all over the place. Have your head in the game but still be excited and ready to play," he explained. "We need everyone on the same page for 80 minutes of focused, hard work."
Sunday's weather is predicted to bring sunny skies and a high temperature in the mid-60s, a welcome forecast after the wet conditions that are expected for several days prior.
Following the 1 p.m. contest on the field named after the former Cal Bear and New Zealand All Black player and longtime SMC coach, a reserve-grade match will feature further proving ground for the deeper parts of both rosters.