You have to think that Cal is looking for a challenge.
The Golden Bears have been virtually untouchable of late, sitting 16-0 with 1,183 points scored and 93 allowed.
At one point, they went 459 minutes of rugby without allowing a try, and through that streak allowed only two penalty goals.
So it’s fair to say, as the Bears roll into Vancouver Sunday for the second leg of the “World Cup” up ten points over UBC, that they have not been tested much.
“We have a performance culture,” Cal Head Coach Jack Clark told RUGBYMag.com, giving a nod to the dominant nature of his team’s victories this season. “We measure ourselves based on a set of standards. So if you were in a meeting the day after a game you’d have a hard time just by listening to the collective discussion of the staff and players whether we won by 50 or lost by 50. We feel like we have a long way to go as a team and we have some challenges to overcome, too.”
Those challenges include injuries, most of them season-ending, to a number of experienced players.
Junior scrumhalf Paul Bosco is out, senior wing Anthony Lombardo is out. All American center Brad Harrington is out. Football convert JP Hurrell is back only this week. The lock position has been so depleted that No. 8 Danny Barrett, whose chief value is his ability in the open field, has locked up, flanker Tiaan De Nysschen will likely be required to do the same.
Through it all the team has persevered and thrived. USA U20 scrumhalf Nick Boyer has been very strong this year and projects to more high honors in the coming years, but he is young, and meanwhile at flyhalf Harry Adolphus and Russell Webb, both freshmen, have been getting starts in the #10 jersey.
Even so the team put 100 points on a big, physically imposing Penn State team, a performance that has Clark sounding quite pleased.
“Penn State’s a good team with some pretty strong guys, and for our guys to play that well against them was good,” he said.
Central to the squad has been the tight five, with the front row of Hurrell, Tanner Moore, and hooker Grant Hyjer holding everything up. Seamus Kelly is the captain and at center has a key job now that Bosco is out.
“He has had some extraordinary moments,” said Clark.
With the leader of the deep three, Lombardo, sidelined, sophomore Andrew Battaglia has come in, but much will ride on the experience of fullback Jake Anderson.
Overall, it’s a young Cal team forced into being young. They will face a UBC team that normally by this time in the season is somewhat beat up from playing men’s teams all through February. But this time the Thunderbirds have weathered the storm well, and are healthy and ready to overcome the 28-18 deficit they face.
That February 16 result was easily to closest Cal has faced all year. They expect it to be close again.
“If we lose but we end up winning the series on aggregate, I guess that somewhat takes the sting out of losing, but only a little,” said Clark. “We are going there to win. We’re excited. This is always an exciting time for us. We are getting into the culmination of our season where we play UBC and then Utah and St. Mary’s, and then right into the Varsity Cup.”
With Utah having almost beaten Cal last year and St. Mary’s going one better and winning that ntense rivalry game, Cal can look to some challenges ahead, which is just what they have wanted.