The new PAC Rugby Conference gets underway Saturday, Feb. 2, on Witter Rugby Field when California hosts Arizona State at 1 p.m. The match will mark the third contest in a seven-match homestand for the Golden Bears, who returned to Witter Rugby Field last week after an absence of almost three years.
A six-team consortium consisting of the Bears, Sun Devils, Arizona, Utah, UCLA and Oregon State, the PAC Rugby Conference is "the most important long-term aspect of our season," according to Cal head coach Jack Clark. "What all of our PAC schools want is to build a rugby conference second to none."
Coach Clark further discussed the PAC Rugby Conference as well as other aspects of the 2013 season in a Q&A published on CalBears.com earlier in January.
The Bears are 6-0 this spring, with five shutouts under their belts, and have allowed only one try to the opposition. The Sun Devils enter the weekend at 1-0, having beaten Arizona, 32-21, in a December nonconference friendly ahead of their March 30 PAC Rugby Conference clash against the Wildcats in Tempe.
"We are really looking forward to the match and honored to be playing in the opening PAC game at Witter Rugby Field," said ASU head coach Gary Lane. The Sun Devils are led three juniors - fullback Adam Sandstrom, back Sione Letoi and lock Eric Rygiel - who are also featured in an Arizona State overview on Pac-12.com.
In their last meeting in 15-a-side rugby, on Feb. 5, 2012, Cal beat ASU on the road, 59-7. Fullback Jake Anderson had a hat trick and captain Seamus Kelly scored two tries in the win.
The Bears expect to welcome All-American Brendan Daly off the injury list and back to the starting lineup, where he could join several players new to the Starting XV and a couple getting a start at their second and/or alternative positions. Sophomore Michael Bush is set to get a run in the back row along with Santa Barbara City College transfer Alec Gletzer.
Freshman Russell Webb should get the nod to start at flyhalf, with sophomore Eakalafi Okusi outside him at center. Second-year Lucas Dunne could get the call for his biggest start so far on the wing. Jack O'Beirne will exchange his back-row jersey for the No. 2 hooker shirt and flanker Ahmed Chehade will anchor the back of the scrum at No. 8.
"We're spreading some opportunities for playing time around with a half-dozen changes from the Stanford lineup," Clark said. "We're trying to build some positional flexibility into our team by asking a couple players to feature at their backup positions."
The 23-man roster for Cal against the Sun Devils includes eight underclassmen. Six seniors are joined by five juniors in the starting lineup with two more third-year players on the Bears' bench.
The reserve-grade match between Cal and ASU, previously scheduled to follow the Starting XV, has been cancelled. The Sun Devils will not be traveling with a reserve team.
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