Photo by Cal Athletics

Bears Ruggers Challenge Undefeated Life University for National Title

May 3, 2019
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Cal’s rugby team faces Life University Saturday night in the College National Championship game in Santa Clara.

As familiar as that sentence is -- the two teams met in last year’s title game -- Bear followers would just as soon forget it. Cal lost, 60-5.

Thus the Bears get what most of us would want, another shot at Life. And that is the end of that sort of pun.

Cal head coach Jack Clark has said repeatedly that he is not all that bothered by the magnitude of last year’s rout, reasoning that the Bears’ got the most out of their abilities in 2018.

“I thought last year’s team did well to get to the final,” he said.

This year’s team is “a nudge” more experienced than last year’s. But does it match up any better with Life’s Running Eagles, who call Marieta, Georgia home?

“I am not going there,” Clark said. “I am not going to get ahead of myself. Last year’s teams,  we both won a semi-final and now we were in a final. I guess we’ll know after the game if this year is different.”

Life (I0-0) advanced to this game by beating Penn State (34-3), Navy (40-25) and arch-rival Lindenwood (27-19).

“They are pretty strong everywhere,” Clark said. “Their forwards are big and strong and very aggressive and physical, and their backs are good, too, They’ve got two or three really outstanding backs and some capable ones.”

Life also has some “interesting players, foreign and domestic.

“They have some big guy up front (Julian Montes) who got out of high school (in Oklahoma)  in 2013,” Clark said.

In other words, this is the sixth of his five years of eligibility.

Clark shrugged and chuckled. “Somebody said he’s eligible, I don’t understand. He’s big and strong(5-11, 250) and he should be.”

He might not be the only one. “A third of their team what we could loosely describe as fifth years,” Clark said. “They are older than us, maybe bigger and stronger.

But, age aside, the Eagles are talented.

“There is a South African, number 8 (Keagan Sparks) who is really good,” Clark said. He added that  Zimbabwean hooker Brian Muntanga, a 5-7, 210-pound junior, is considered by many followers to be the Eagles “best player.”

“They have a guy (Mitchell Wilson) 15 now. He’s Australian. A real headsey player.”

Cal (18-1) advanced to the final with that thrilling 28-24 victory over St Mary’s, when Sam Cusano scored a try on the game’s final play.

Clark said the Bears cannot afford a repeat of last week’s second half, in which the Bears were shut out until the end. He felt unforced errors hurt the Bears during that period and could be devastating against Life. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “And we look a little bit dangerous and from time to time we are. But we make some unforced errors on account of how we play.

“I thought we were mostly good with that in the first half against St. Mary’s. I thought in the second half a few of those mistakes crept back in. We threw a pass where we didn’t need to. And we should not throw a 50-50 pass that can turn over a possession. We need to have the judgment to take the ball into a tackle, recycle it and keep possession. We need to use good judgment when we are pushing our skills and tempos and trying to be adventurous with the ball. We still need to do that because it is a little bit in our DNA. But we have to be careful so the story of the game is not about our unforced errors.”

He said that aspect of the Bears game has improved. “I think we’ve gotten a little bit better,” he said. “It was a curse of this team a year ago. Listen, they (some players) want to make a play, they want to help their team. It is almost admirable, but they have got to have  the judgment not to force it.”

The Bears have been shuffling their lineup all postseason, partly because of injuries and partly due to matchups.,

“We have made eight to ten changes in just about all of our games,” Clark said. “We have changed up our lineup. We are trying to spread the minutes out, spread the responsibility out. At the same time, we want to develop as much depth as we can if we have to go to our bench. Like all teams, we have some injuries, we have some guys that are banged up. So we will try to put the best team on the field.”

The game at Stevens Stadium kicks off at 6 p.m. and will be shown on CBS Sports Network.

This is the fourth meeting in 15s between Cal and Life, all coming in national title games. The Bears won the first two, and then there was last year.

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Bears Ruggers Challenge Undefeated Life University for National Title

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