February 5, 2016
Cal Hosts University of British Columbia Feb. 6th
Cal Bears Press Release: February 2, 2106
BERKELEY – The Golden Bears’ home schedule kicks off with a scorcher Saturday, Feb. 6, at 11 a.m. as California (5-0) hosts British Columbia (10-0) in the “World Cup” series opener on Witter Rugby Field.
Slated for an early kickoff at 11 a.m. on top of its early scheduling, which comes two weeks sooner than its traditional fixture date, Saturday’s “Cup” opener is an all-hands-on-deck affair for the Bears, who will need the utmost support from their fans.
Cal students and children under 12 gain free admission, while the launch of advance online tickets for rugby at CalBears.com gives fans a great new way to secure guaranteed tickets to this and other traditional sellouts on the regular-season home schedule. Saturday’s match airs live on Pac-12 Network with cable-carrier credentials also providing access to the broadcast via pac-12.com and the Pac-12 Now app.
Cal is the winner of 11 of the last 15 “World Cups,” named after the World Newspaper of Vancouver, Canada, where the trophy for the series was first awarded in 1921. A two-match, home-and-away battle decided by total points, the “Cup” ended in a split last year when the Bears dropped their home half of the series, 19-6, before edging the Thunderbirds, 23-21, in Vancouver.
The 2016 Bears are averaging 56 points per game while holding opponents scoreless after five matches played, four of which came in the shortened format of the Dennis Storer Classic. Last Saturday in Arroyo Grande, Calif., Cal scored a dozen tries, emptied its bench for the second half and beat Cal Poly, 79-0. Flyhalf Russell Webb had a hat trick and center Anthony Salaber scored twice before they exited with other starters in the team’s fifth straight shutout.
While those numbers give due credit to the pace and pressure that Cal wants to apply, they also reinforce the fact that the Blue and Gold have not faced any adversity yet in their 15-a-side season, and that is very likely to change on Saturday. The Thunderbirds enter the weekend with significantly more seasoning under their belts, having been playing – and winning – in 15-a-side play since September.
“I’m not sure if there would ever be a good time to play this lot, but it wouldn’t be after having only one full match under our belt,” said head coach Jack Clark. “We will need to grow up pretty quickly or we risk a troubling outing. That said, we are grateful for the opportunity to play such a talented team. The burden is on us to give the T-Birds a match.”
The Thunderbirds opened their 2015-16 season at the World University Cup, where UBC defeated New Zealand Universities, 20-10, before going on to place third with an 18-14 victory over Oxford University in the consolation championship. British Columbia beat the University of Victoria, 37-30, Jan. 16 to win their annual match for the Wightman Boot and most recently dispatched Capilano RFC for a second time this season, 21-5. The ‘Birds have a veteran team that have taken the senior club and collegiate competition by storm, ripping through Burnaby Lake twice, the Vancouver Rowing Club and Meraloma RFC, and notching two wins over USA Rugby senior club powerhouse Seattle Saracens, 38-19 on Nov. 7 and 43-19 on Nov. 21.
“It is hard to imagine a UBC team with more firepower and competitive success than this crew,” coach Clark said. “They have doubled down on their rugby scholarship funding and their talent level has gone through the roof.”
The First XV named for Saturday to represent the Blue and Gold is expected to include the return of loosehead prop Scott Walsh and center Jesse Milne, both of whom were unavailable in Cal’s last outing due to injury. Walsh will join hooker Michael Bush and tighhead prop George Vrame in the front row. Locks James Kondrat and Tomas Zerbino will likely be flanked by first-year Bear Thomas Robles and 19-year-old freshman Nic Mirhasem at No. 6 and 7, and anchored by Drew Gaffney at No. 8.
The scrumhalf jersey will be worn by either Eakalafi Okusi or Nicklas Boyer, who is slowly returning to full go from injury. The backline for the Bears figures to include Russell Webb at flyhalf, Milne and Salaber at the centers, sophomore Jake Goena at one wing after his solid outing against Cal Poly and the final spot at the other wing likely going to Miles Honens, sophomore Zach Tavenner or fellow second-year William Fuller. Harry Adolphus will man the fullback position.
With that earlier-than-usual 11 am kickoff Saturday for the “World Cup” series opener, the Bears will need all the support they can muster on Witter Rugby Field to face the Thunderbirds, the first in a month full of challenges for the Bears. The second match of Cal’s February frenzy at home features Air Force on Feb. 20 at noon (preceded by a curtain raiser vs. Cal Maritime at 10 a.m.), followed by the conference-play visit from UCLA to Strawberry Canyon on Feb. 27 at 3 p.m.
With future prospects of championship titles to be earned in the PAC Rugby Conference, the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championships and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, it is now, for the “World Cup,” that the Rugby Bears have set their sights on this major test to define their season.