Reserves ready to star in finale

Photo: The Cal rugby team boasts a 23-0 record this season. Jack Clark's battalion will consist of a mixture of starters and reserves in Saturday's game against Cal Poly.
Michael Gethers/Staff
The Cal rugby team boasts a 23-0 record this season. Jack Clark's battalion will consist of a mixture of starters and reserves in Saturday's game against Cal Poly.

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Even though the Cal rugby team has already secured a postseason berth, Saturday's regular season finale will be the biggest game of some of the players' careers thus far.

In preparation for postseason play opening May 7, coach Jack Clark is opting to rest several of his top players against Cal Poly at 1 p.m. That opens the door for a number of younger players to take the field at Cal Poly Sports Complex in San Luis Obispo, Calif., for the first time against a formidable opponent.

"We're kind of holding our breath with the forward team we have selected," Clark said. "Some of these guys are going to have to play out of their skins just to hold their own.

"I think we just cross our fingers and hope for the best."

In addition to the added pressure of playing in an official match, some of these players are among the 30 ruggers still duking it out for a spot on the 23-man postseason roster.

While the stakes are much higher, sophomore center Brad Harrington said he and his teammates aren't letting the pressure of this match get to them.

"For me, they're all the same," Harrington said. "I guess there's more hype around the first side matches, but as a player, you can't really get caught up in it. You have to keep a level head and just approach it the exact same way you would approach any other game."

For the Bears (23-0, 6-0 in the CPD), defensive preparation will be crucial for this particular match, given the heralded physicality of the Mustangs' forwards. Cal Poly also features two players named Pacific Player of the Week this season, including reigning honoree prop Kris Osterloh.

The Mustangs stand in the middle of the pack with a 2-3 league record, but are still dangerous, having challenged the division's No. 2 seed St. Mary's during their match.

"Our scrummaging's going to have to be strong this week," sophomore prop Lyall Daveport said. "We've done well in the past and we managed to push a few of the St. Mary's scrums, but Cal Poly did as well.

"A few of us are really going to have to man up, me included, and put in a good performance."

The last time Cal Poly's solid effort against Cal resulted in a win was in 2004, when the squad bested the Bears' reserve side, 58-18. Later that season, the teams met in the national champioship game, where Cal's regular lineup tamed the Mustangs, 46-24. The clubs last met in the quarterfinals two years ago when the Bears emerged the victor, 76-10.

Clark isn't quite going with the same recipe that led to the 2004 loss, putting out a mixed lineup rather than one exclusively made up of reserves. The match will also serve as a testing ground for different combinations of top players outside their traditional positions, such as starting wing Dustin Muhn playing scrumhalf or flanker Derek Asbun playing hooker.

But eyes will undoubtedly be on the younger players, who have yet to earn their stripes against good teams.

"There's certain moments in life where you've gotta play to your potential," Clark said. "You gotta front up to the challenge, and that's what they're going to have to do.

"They're good enough to do it. It's just a matter of if they can get it done."


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

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