Up against the best in the nation, the #16 UCSB men’s rugby team put up a fight last Saturday, but failed in their attempt to be the first U.S. collegiate team to beat #1 Cal in the last four years.
The Gauchos controlled the ball early, but could not capitalize on their opportunities, falling 45-15 as Cal dominated the middle 40 minutes of play. UCSB made the most of the weekend though, beating #8 Clemson 32-22 the following day in the consolation game.
“They’re the number one team in the country for a reason; there’s little to no weakness on that Cal team,” UCSB Head Coach Kevin Battle said. “We came at them hard early on, but they kind of weathered the storm and then exerted their will as the game went on.”
The Gauchos played inspired rugby, coming close to Cal’s goal line several times early in the game. But the Golden Bear defense rallied every time, and Santa Barbara could not turn its offensive opportunities into tries.
Cal standout sophomore scrumhalf Jason Lee gave it the lead eight minutes into the game. From there, the Golden Bears never looked back, scoring several times to take a 24-3 lead into halftime.
“We couldn’t convert the pressure into points,” Battle said. “When you’re playing a team like Cal, you have to convert your opportunities. If we score on those drives, now the pressure is on them, and they have to adapt their game plan to us, but that’s why they’re the best team in the country.”
After falling behind 45-3, the Gauchos scored two more tries in the final 10 minutes to make the score more respectable, and held Cal scoreless over about the last half hour of play.
“We came out and kind of had them on the ropes for the first 20 minutes and played really well in the last 20 minutes. It was that middle 40 where they really took it to us,” Battle said. “I was very pleased; all you can really ask for is the guys to do their best. They refused to accept defeat at the end; they just wanted to put as many points on the board as they could.”
Although his team dominated, Cal Head Coach Jack Clark was impressed with the spirit and energy the Gauchos brought into their match.
“They’re an organized bunch, and I thought they played really hard,” Clark said. “I’m really proud of them, and that’s what’s right about college rugby.”
Determined to prove they were a better team than the Sweet 16 game indicated, the Gauchos came out hard against #8 Clemson in the consolation game.
“It was a fantastic game, back and forth the whole way, but we built up a pretty good lead midway through,” Battle said. “They went on a run to get within two points, but in the last 10 minutes we scored a try and converted a penalty kick to put the game out of reach.”