LAFAYETTE, Colo. – California will continue its trend of utilizing a large portion of its roster during this weekend’s trip to Los Angeles where the Golden Bears will square off against both UCLA and USC Saturday, March 11.
Most recently, Cal wrapped the 2017 rendition of the ‘World Cup’ – its home-and-away series with the University of British Columbia. In the opener of the two-game set, a first XV that closely resembled Cal’s top side fought valiantly before falling to the Thunderbirds at home, 28-17. Last weekend, Jack Clark’s Bears started 15 new players for their visit to British Columbia. The much younger lineup kept things close against its rivals to the North before the Thunderbirds pulled away in the second half, 50-6.
Despite the pair of losses, there were positives to take from the World Cup.
“They’re a good program. So, it’s always a good experience for us playing against another solid team, and just getting our young guys on the field and seeing who’s ready to play and who’s ready to take over whenever they get the call,” said eight man Drew Gaffney. “It was awesome to see a good amount of our young guys answer that call.”
Of course, the series against British Columbia highlighted a few areas that need additional work at training, too. The forwards feel they must do a better job in the set pieces, while the back line has to be more accurate with its pass-and-catch skills.
All things considered, the freshmen and sophomores – including the eight that started in Berkeley against British Columbia – have been progressing quite well.
“I think every one of them is coming along in the program, and it’s really awesome to see that they are able to have success playing with all of us regardless,” Gaffney, a senior sharing the back row with a pair of youngsters, said. “They’re proving week in and week out that they can hang with us and able to answer the call.”
Dozens of Bears will be involved in PAC Rugby action tomorrow. After Cal plays UCLA, it will send out another side to tackle a challenge brought by USC immediately following the clash against the Bruins. It’s likely that a more experienced unit will face UCLA, which has been Cal’s biggest challengers in the PAC Rugby Conference in recent years. Two years ago the Bruins nearly pulled of an upset of the Bears, narrowly succumbing to Cal, 18-12.
“They’re a pretty good organization,” Gaffney complimented of UCLA. “They get a good amount of foreign kids, they can all play and they take on what [UCLA Head Coach] Scott Stewart has to say down there. He’s a great coach and always gets those boys ready to play against us.”
After combining to score just 23 points during the World Cup, the Bears would like to see their offense get back to scoring tries in bunches. Gaffney, who recorded a try in Cal’s win over No. 15 Arizona before notching a hat trick when the Bears defeated Arizona State, could be a focal point of their attack this weekend.
“I couldn’t do any of those things without the help of my teammates,” noted Gaffney. “All 14 guys on the field set me up perfectly against U of A and ASU, and it was a good team effort to set me up to score. I was just the lucky one to come away with those tries.”