Younger Bears prep for weekend showdown with suddenly surging Slugs

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The younger players on the Cal rugby team have been waiting seven weeks to play UC Santa Cruz. On Sunday at 1 p.m., the Bears will finally get the chance.

Cal was slated to play the Slugs on Feb. 27, but the match was postponed due to field conditions brought on by that week's deluge.

This time, the match in Santa Cruz, Calif., takes on even greater significance than just getting younger players time on the field.

With the postseason looming, this is an opportunity for the younger Bears to prove themselves down the stretch. Some players are still vying for one of the 23 spots on the postseason roster.

"This will probably be a landmark on your season," sophomore wing Josh Tucker said. "If you want to put on a clinic for a game, this is the game you want to do it because you're going to have everyone watching."

Yet the underclassmen have struggled in their more recent duels when all eyes were on them.

After throttling Cal Maritime on Feb. 9 by a score of 85-0, Cal (22-0, 6-0 in the CPD) struggled mightily, at least by its own standards.

The younger Bears squad went on a five-and-a-half week hiatus until its subsequent frosh-soph game against Sierra College, a 35-7 win. Cal then narrowly escaped Santa Rosa Junior College with a 31-21 win last week.

"We've been a little rocky," Tucker said. "We played great at Cal Maritime. We've been struggling to find that same vibe between each other. We were all on the same page that night, and ever since then, it's been sort of hard."

The Slugs, on the other hand, are riding a three-match winning streak, during which their smallest margin of victory was 39 points.

Earlier in the season, Santa Cruz (4-3) lost two heartbreakers in the final minutes and posted a dismal 1-4 record. Since then, the Slugs shut out Pacific and Fresno State, and nearly blanked the Bulldogs again in a rematch.

Santa Cruz will likely trot out its top side against Cal, rather than exclusively use underclassmen.

On his own team, head coach Jack Clark sees a major discrepancy between his top line and underclassmen in their level of aggressive play on offense.

"It's going to be important that we get a little more dynamic, that we're able to pass and catch accurately and have some good runs and go forward with the ball, especially in the forwards," Clark said. "A lot of really stagnant possessions is what they've been producing, and they just need to be more dynamic."

Clark has been attempting to instill that instinct in them during practice, but it is clear they need competition to further their development.

"We can try to do everything we can during practices," sophomore fullback Danny Collins said, "but we need some game time to show the coaches what we can do and try to get in the mix of things."


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

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