Ruggers Play for Pride vs. UC Davis

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Shaun Paga, Mike Freeman, Matt Kane, Chris Miller and John Buchholz are five of the Cal rugby team's leaders, and five of the best players in the country. But as of last week, there was a chance that none of them would be in the lineup for the Bears' game against UC Davis - the biggest match of the regular season for both teams - because of injuries.

But what a difference a week makes. Freeman has been cleared to play and will definitely be on the pitch Saturday at Witter Field. Kane will be checked by a doctor today to see whether his slight case of pneumonia has cleared up, and he is optimistic that he will play. Buchholz has been cleared to play after missing some action with a dislocated shoulder, but Bears coach Jack Clark is still skeptical as to whether he'll be ready to go.

But Paga, who injured his knee against Reno in Cal's season opener, will most likely remain on the sidelines when the Aggies come to town. All-American Chris Miller, who recently had surgery on his hip flexor, may not be able to suit up either.

"The injuries don't number a lot," said Clark, who has led the Bears to a 6-2 record this season. "But they are some of the best players in the country that may not be available to us."

With or without the injuries, this weekend's match should be the Bears' toughest Northern California Rugby Association match of the year. So far this season, Davis and Cal have each been unstoppable in conference play. Neither has lost a game against an NCRA opponent, and neither has really been challenged - until now.

"They know that they have to come down here and beat us," Freeman said. "They're going to be pumped up, but it goes both ways. We're going to be fired up too."

The Bears have heard the facts from Clark. The players know that other coaches - namely, Charles Zanoli of Cal Poly - have said that Davis is a better team, but they have also heard that the Aggies can't even compete with Cal. Either way, they say they are ready for a fight.

"We've been hearing about how strong Davis is all spring," Kane said. "But it'll be nice to set things straight. We're excited to show them what Cal rugby is all about."

Although both teams are already virtually assured a spot in the 16-team postseason tournament, winning Saturday's game is crucial for the Bears.

A loss would set up Cal to finish second in the conference, sending the team to Annapolis, Md. as the No. 2 seed for the first two rounds of the tourney. Although the Bears are confident that they can win anywhere, they would rather not travel all the way to the East Coast.

That's because Witter Field, Cal's home pitch, will host the other half of the first- and second-round games - whether the Bears are there or not.

"A loss means that Cal would be hosting a regional and we wouldn't be in it," Clark said. "It's important for the program to play at home."

Besides the Bears' unblemished conference record and potential No. 1 seed, it's their pride and their reputation that's on the line.

"The fact that another UC school, just 45 minutes away, is posing a threat to us, (gives us) an incentive," Kane said.

"It's a must-win game," Clark said.


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