The University of California travels to Salt Lake City this weekend to face Pac-12 rival Utah on Saturday. Kickoff is 1pm at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The match is a big day on Cal’s schedule, with the Bears having pulled out of D1-A, they see every game as a test of their standing in the rugby world, and, more importantly, the Pac-12.
Utah has the D1-A season to look to and prepare for.
The two teams faced off in the 2011 D1-A semis, where Cal won 62-14.
The Utes (4-2) feature returning All-America prop Nick Mostyn and AA honorable mention Scott Matecalf at flanker, as well as All-America Don Pati in the backs, where he is joined by AA honorable mention A.J. Tuineau as well as Tonata Lauti, and former All American prop Mike Shepherd.
Shepherd was a transfer from Indiana last year, but missed the season due to injury. He is back playing, but is still working toward his top form.
“He’s working hard and coming along,” said Utah Head Coach Blake Burdette.
As for the team as a whole, Utah could be forgiven for avoiding challenging matches right before opening the D1-A league season. Burdette dismissed the idea.
“It is exactly what we need,” he said. “We went down to San Francisco and got it taken to us against some really tough teams [St. Mary’s and SFGG]. The boys have been working hard trying to correct some things, but we’re looking for a benchmark to see if we’re better. This game will do that.”
For their part, Cal is a little stung after losing 22-20 to Cal Poly last weekend.
Head coach Jack Clark said he stood by his philosophy on the selection process that continues to steer the course of the program.
"I don't have any second thoughts about giving more players an opportunity to represent Cal last week. It's what we have always done, normally successfully but not always," said Clark. "Competition is an important aspect of developing players and we are committed to providing meaningful competition opportunities to the whole of our team."
Clark referred to the Utes as "one of the better teams in the country and it will require a solid performance to better them. We are fortunate to have a team such as Utah as a Pac-12 power in rugby."
Pac-12 is a constant theme in Cal’s season, as they look to play conference rivals. Clark has made no secret of the fact that he thinks a Pac-12 rugby competition would be compelling to fans, sponsors, and possibly TV. Burdette agrees.
“It’s a big deal for the school and the students,” said Burdette. “It resonates throughout all sports. But I am focused on getting us ready for the D1-A season and seeing us play the best rugby we can play.”
Cal will be led by No. 8 Danny Barrett, who is a mercurial, but dynamic player who can turn a game on its head. Their midfield, with Brad Harrington, Seamus Kelly, and talents such as freshman Eakalafi Okusi could be the difference for Cal. If they play smart defense against an unpredictable Utah backline, the Bears will likely prevail.
Tickets to this match are $10 each for general admission. Students and military personnel are $6, and children under 12 are free with a paying adult. Advance ticket sales are available at www.RioTintoStadium.com .