Bears Stay Perfect After First Halftime Deficit This Season

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It was not just the pouring rain and the muddy field at the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club on Treasure Island that provided unfamiliar conditions for the Cal rugby team on Saturday afternoon.

For the first time this year, the Bears found themselves trailing at halftime, down 13-7 to British Columbia. That tally stood until there were six minutes remaining in the contest, when flanker Tom Rooke's left corner try put Cal within one. Senior James Bailes' conversion gave the Bears their first lead of the day en route to a 21-13 win.

"We sort of snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, really," Rooke said.

The senior flanker scored on a play from a lineout at the 10-meter line. Rather than funnel the ball to the right side as was expected, senior Drew Hyjer caught the ball and passed to senior Neil Barrett, who delivered it to Rooke to cut in for the score.

While the crafty play brought Cal within one, it set up a very difficult conversion kick for Bailes near the left touchline that was needed to take the lead. The South African got just the proper angle and just enough distance to put it through the uprights.

"I just blocked everything out," Bailes said. "You train for those big moments and hopefully when one comes your way, you manage to do it."

After committing numerous handling errors with the slick ball in the first half, the Bears turned the tables, capitalizing on a Thunderbird turnover near Cal's try line. Under pressure by senior Sean Gallinger, the Thunderbirds coughed up the ball, which set up a 77th-minute try by junior wing James McTurk.

Yet again Bailes was called on to make a tough conversion - this time from the right side of the field. He nailed it to post a perfect 3-3 on the day.

In an intense battle between evenly matched teams, execution late in the game made the difference.

The Bears were nearly shut out in the first half, save a converted try by Blaine Scully in the waning moments of the period. The Thunderbirds made significantly fewer errors and controlled the tempo of the first 40 minutes, putting up two penalty kicks and a converted try.

"They're always going to be a really worthy competitor," Cal coach Jack Clark said. "And they're always going to have the run of play for large parts of the game and that was difficult for us.

"We had to play more defense today than we've had to play in the sum total of our games previously."

UBC, however, was held scoreless in the second half. Still leading 13-7 in the second half, Thunderbird fullback Dave Hilborn had two opportunities to tack on another three points with penalty kicks from 40 and 25 meters, but missed them both.

"In the end, we're the guys that made the mistakes and we've got no one to look at except ourselves," UBC coach Spence McTavish said. "Especially in the second half, we had lots of opportunities and came away with nothing. When that happens, that's kind of a sign."

While the Bears were pleased to emerge with a win, the margin of victory does not give them a commanding lead in the World Cup race between the two teams. The Cup's winner is determined by the team to accrue the most points over the two games, with the final to take place in Vancouver in mid-March. Eight points is "virtually nothing," according to Clark.

Although Cal may not have secured a significant edge over their cross-border rivals, they did gain the confidence in their ability to play from behind.

"It builds character, definitely," Bailes said. "Going into future matches, you know that you can do that now. You can dig deep and you know that you can come back."


Christina Jones covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected]

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