The 131st year of California rugby continues in 2013 with the kickoff of the Golden Bears' traditional spring season in the 15-a-side game. Cal will journey from coast to coast and across the border between January and June, and for the first time since 2010, the Bears will welcome fans back to Strawberry Canyon with the reopening of Witter Rugby Field for home matches.
The full schedule, as in previous seasons, offers ample opportunity over the course of more than 20 matches for Cal's reserves and/or frosh-soph sides to pit themselves against the top teams from other universities.
"It is critically important to the future of our program that varsity matches aren't restricted to only our best and most-experienced players," said head coach Jack Clark. "We need to be in the athlete-development business as well as the business of challenging our best players against the best teams. There are enough opportunities to be shared, and we intend to do just that."
The cream will surely rise to the top as the entire roster is tested through timeless rivalries both local and long distance, conference clashes, an exciting postseason stocked with championship teams and a return to national television to wind up the year.
The spring slate gets started with the weekend of Jan. 19-20 at UCLA for the Dennis Storer All-UC Tournament. Cal won its seventh straight UCLA Tournament last year in Los Angeles. The past six of those finals have come against the Bruins.
After a midweek meeting with Santa Clara on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m., the official welcome party for the reopening of Witter Rugby Field features Stanford University in the match for the Scrum Axe on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 1 p.m. A reserve-grade match follows the First XV (see schedule for all fixtures accompanied by reserve matches) as Cal and the Cardinal resume a tradition almost as old as the institutions they represent.
The Arizona State Sun Devils visit Berkeley on Feb. 2 followed by a midweek evening match at home against Cal Maritime Academy on Feb. 6. The Bears get right back into it the following Saturday when they host Cal Poly on Feb. 9. Cal dropped a 22-20 loss to the Mustangs last spring in San Luis Obispo. The Bears fielded a largely reserve lineup in that match, but nevertheless, the loss ended a 63-match winning streak for the blue and gold.
The Bears then have a week to prepare for the 93rd anniversary of the "World Cup" series when the University of British Columbia arrives in town. Cal has won 13 of the past 16 "World Cups," a two-match series that dates back to 1921, and will be seeking its seventh straight series over the Thunderbirds. The Bears earned their sixth in a row with a two-match sweep of the T-Birds in 2012.
"The UBC matches are like a season within the season," coach Clark said. "Pride is always on the line."
Having completed a multi-month homestand to honor the reopening of their home pitch capped by the "World Cup" opener, the Bears continue action in the PAC Rugby Conference on Feb. 23 in Los Angeles against the Bruins on UCLA's North Athletic Field at 1 p.m.
Clark called the inaugural season of the PAC Rugby Conference "the most important long-term aspect of our season. What all of our PAC schools want is to build a rugby conference second to none. We want the quality of our rugby to be top rate and the week-to-week packaging of our events to be without peer. In short, we want to build a sporting product."
It's straight back to Berkeley to rekindle the home-field fires the following weekend with a March 2 tilt against the Arizona Wildcats followed on Monday, March 2, with a special kickoff to the week against Penn State at 6 p.m. The Bears blanked Arizona last February in Tucson but have not faced the Nittany Lions in 15s since Cal's national quarterfinal victory over PSU in 2010.
The first-ever meeting in rugby between Cal and James Madison takes place two nights later on Wed., March 6, at 6 p.m., before the Bears hit the road to face Oregon State in Corvallis at 1 p.m. on March 9 and Oregon in Eugene on March 10.
Following an open weekend with action to be determined on March 16-17, the Bears check through Canadian customs to finish the 2013 "World Cup" series at British Columbia against the Thunderbirds on March 24.
Homecoming happens on Saturday, March 30, when the Utah Utes take on the Bears at Witter Rugby Field. Last February, junior Jake Anderson kicked the game-winning penalty as time expired to give the Bears a the Gaels won their first match against Cal in 22 years with a two-point decision that ended the Bears' 15s season with a 15-2 record.
The next three weekends offer rugby fans a new, eight-team, national invitational knockout tournament featuring the best teams in America at the Varsity Cup championship, beginning with the April 20 quarterfinals and progressing from the April 27 semifinals to the May 4 championship.
The Bears join BYU, Utah, Air Force, Dartmouth, Navy, Notre Dame and UCLA to compete in a Varsity Cup championship field that represents 31 of the 33 all-time national collegiate champions. As a group, these eight teams have earned 64 final four championships places since 1980.
"It should be a really challenging postseason," Clark said. "We have a lot of competitive respect for the Varsity Cup teams. We'll have about three months to build a side capable of going head to head with these teams."
After the Varsity Cup concludes the Bears' 15s season, Cal will turn once again to the seven-a-side, Olympic code of the game when it travels to its fourth Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s, held June 1-2 in Philadelphia and televised by NBC Sports.
Be sure to check back with CalBears.com for updates to the Rugby Bears' schedule. "Like" Cal Varsity Rugby on Facebook and follow the team on Twitter @CalVarsityRugby to get late-breaking news as well as sideline match updates.
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