Young Bears Look to Slug Santa Cruz in Sunday Game

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Most of the freshmen and sophomores on the Cal rugby team had to watch last Saturday's comeback over British Columbia from the sidelines, chomping at the bit to get in the game.

Eight days removed from the win, those young players will get the chance to take the pitch as they take on UC Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Sunday at 1 p.m.

"Just to see the fight and the hunger that our older guys have definitely gives us pride," sophomore fullback Andre Coquillard said. "We just want to be part of the same culture and the same tradition that our first team plays with."

That process of becoming ingrained in the Cal rugby culture starts in these younger games, when the underclassmen face lower-end competition to prove themselves to the coaching staff.

Such contests are reserved for the younger players only for the Bears (15-0); the Slugs (1-4), meanwhile, will put out their regular starters, pitting the young blood against seasoned veterans.

Santa Cruz has had some tough luck of late, losing two of its last three matches in the few remaining minutes of the game. Cal Maritime then blanked the Slugs, 35-0, last weekend.

Given its recent run of misfortune and its age over its opponents, Santa Cruz may come out of the gates feeling it has something to prove.

"You get that blood lust on the pitch," Slug No. 8 and team president Phil Brody said. "We've got a lot of seniors on the team and when you've got a bunch of sophomores coming at you, it becomes a little bit of a pride thing."

But Santa Cruz is after more than pride. One of the Slugs' coaches, Robbie Bellue, is a product of the Cal program, and schedules the match annually to test his players and expose them to a "well-drilled team," Brody said.

Cal has been drilling on crisper passing lately, which sophomore scrumhalf Jose Peņa said has yielded tangible results. More importantly, however, the young squad is making strides in its ability to function as a unit.

"It's a lot of younger guys coming in from their old systems in high school just starting to adapt to Cal systems," Peņa said. "So those last couple games we had, like against Cal Maritime, we did a lot better at bonding together and knowing exactly what we were doing on the field - what's on, what's not on, just connecting."

The Bears look forward to connecting on Santa Cruz's pitch, which Coquillard considers to be one of the finest away fields. It will be a stark contrast to the dirt patches found on other fields the team has played on this season, such as the ones found in Las Vegas two weeks ago.

"We like to play a quick style of game," he said. "We like to run our opposition around the field. So when we know there's a nice patch of grass out there, we can really dig our boots in and go for it."

It may not carry the same weight as last weekend's match, but this Sunday's game is important to the program's future.

"While the other guys mark the big games on the schedule, this is one of those I circle as a big game for us, for the young boys," Coquillard said.


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

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