Local rugby powers match up in Moraga

Photo: The Cal rugby team plays SMC Sunday.
Shannon Hamilton/Staff
The Cal rugby team plays SMC Sunday.

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Going into this weekend, the Cal rugby team has only played three games in the Bay Area this year. A win on Sunday in Moraga, Calif., will guarantee one more game near Berkeley.

The 1 p.m. battle between the Bears and St. Mary's at Pat Vincent Field will likely determine the No. 1 seed of the CPD's Pacific division. Each region's top team gets to choose the location of its quarterfinal match.

Should the Gaels prevail, Sunday's tilt would likely mark the last local match for Cal's fifth-year seniors, who were displaced from Witter Rugby Field this year due to the installation of turf to accommodate the football and lacrosse teams.

The top two teams in each region advance to the postseason, however, so the match's outcome will not eliminate either squad from contention. Given their spotless league records, both are in prime position to claim the two spots.

"I suspect (both teams) will make the postseason," coach Jack Clark said. "So that kind of diminishes how critical this game is ... I think it's an important game because we want to win, but I don't think it will have a critical impact on how the season unfolds."

Last year, the match determined which team would secure a bye before the national collegiate round of 16. Three of the last four matches between the local rivals have had postseason implications.

St. Mary's has put together an impressive season, defeating British Columbia on Feb. 16 before suffering its lone loss of the year a week and a half later to split the season series.

"There is a sense and an awareness that SMC is playing consistent, competitive rugby (this year)," Gaels coach Tim O'Brien said, "and if we continue along those trend lines, we could possibly challenge the historic scorelines."

History has heavily favored the Bears, who have enjoyed large margins of victory over St. Mary's. The last time the squads met in Moraga, however, Cal escaped with a narrow 20-5 victory and a self-proclaimed unsatisfactory outing.

"They're as dangerous as we let them be," junior scrumhalf Connor Ring said. "They're one of those teams that once they get on a roll, they'll start off-loading balls, getting things going. Once they get some confidence going and a couple balls bounce their way, they're real dangerous."

The Bears have certainly proven dangerous this season, largely without planning for specific opponents. That mentality changed this week, with Clark implementing what he calls "new wrinkles" to Cal's gameplan given what they know about St. Mary's.

At the end of the day, however, the team expects the outcome will hinge on aspects of the game it focuses on each week.

"I think if we show up and we play the physical, fast-paced game that we can, that'll be one of our keys to victory," Gallinger said. "If we let them run at us, if we let them determine the pace of play, then we could be in trouble."


Contact Christina at [email protected]

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