With a leader named of Coach Battle, it should be obvious why the UCSB men’s club rugby team is ready to fight. The real question is: will Cal Poly be ready for the war?
For the past three years, UCSB and Cal Poly have been high-rolling rivals, competing for the lone spot in the Sweet 16 that is guaranteed to the top Southern California team. Two years ago, the Gauchos claimed the victory and the bid, while last year the Mustangs that took both. This year’s victory, bid and bragging rights are still up for grabs.
Senior Rob Reed, who has witnessed the intense rivalry, knows how important this game is to Santa Barbara.
“We’ve had a history of [Cal Poly]”, Reed said. “Last year we went up to their house and had a loss. It’s redemption every year; it just goes back and forth.”
Although UCSB, currently ranked #13 in the nation, will have to defeat #5 Cal Poly this Friday, the Gauchos must also take on unranked UCLA to secure their spot in the collegiate national championship, which will take place April 15-16.
With the conference on the line, Coach Kevin Battle is approaching Cal Poly very seriously.
“We have one seed from our conference, so we need to beat them in order to go,” Battle said. “I told them we’re either playing in it or we’re working it.”
Santa Barbara’s current record is 3-1, suffering their only defeat at the hands of Sac State last weekend. Their defensive is the team’s main focus for improvement in order to overcome Cal Poly.
“We’ll be working on defense close to the rucks,” captain Reid Wilson said.
The “rucks” is a play in which players from either team gather around a dropped ball in hopes of gaining possession by kicking the ball to a teammate.
The Gauchos, placing 15th in the nation last year, are also confident that this year’s influx of freshman will have an impact on their odds to come out on top.
“This is the best side we’ve ever fielded.” Wilson said. “We have more starters than jerseys.”
Freshman Andrew Booth, a player on the varsity team, understands the importance of Friday’s competition, despite his first-year status.
“I’ve heard a lot about what this game means,” Booth said. “It’s very exciting.”
Motivation is definitely not a problem for the team.
“If anything, I need to settle them down,” Battle said. “The excitement is contagious.”
Despite some slight injuries, such as Wilson’s partially dislocated right shoulder, bumps and bruises won’t keep this Gaucho team from playing its hardest.
“Some players are nursing injuries,” Battle said. “But it truly couldn’t keep them off the field. I tell them to suck it up and play through the pain.”
That, of course, is what rugby is all about. The varsity game will be held at Harder Stadium on Friday at 7:30 p.m., weather permitting, while JV match will begin at 5 p.m. Should the rain interfere, the teams will play at Rob Field.