Members of the Cal Poly rugby club team are chomping at the bit for their first taste of league play this weekend against UCLA.
The Mustangs begin the 2008 season looking to maintain their dominance of the Southern California Rugby Football Union by walking away with their third consecutive league championship.
“We’re really strong pretty much all over the field,” said Gabe Escalera, Cal Poly rugby president.
He added that the Mustangs, who lost just three starters from the past season, should field a “pretty dynamic” team.
“Our backs are pretty agile, and we’re pretty strong in the forwards,” Escalera said.
UCLA poses a physical challenge, he added.
“They’re a pretty good team,” Escalera said. “They gave us a good test last year, and I don’t think they’ve lost too many players from then. I think their back three – their wings and fullback – are pretty fast. They might try to test us with those two players.”
Cal Poly is coming off of a successful preseason campaign in which it went 5-2, and totes an impressive league record of 15-1 over the course of its past two championship seasons.
In 2007, the Mustangs went 8-1, outscoring their opponents 506 to 119. Both outputs were SCRFU highs.
In their final preseason outing of this year, the Mustangs built on their past defensive success by not surrendering a single point to the San Francisco Golden Gate Under-23 men’s club, winning 27-0.
Wing Joe Malm paced Cal Poly with three scores in the first half alone.
Lock Kurt Puder and wing Trenton Yackzan provided the rest of the offense in the rout.
Ultimately, the goal for the seventh-ranked Mustangs, however, is the coveted national championship, which has remained just out of their reach since their first national tournament appearance in 2001.
Cal Poly’s best showing in the tournament came in 2004, when it reached the final game after knocking the defending champion, Air Force, out of the final four.
After a grueling 80 minutes of play against Cal, the Mustangs narrowly missed their first championship and were forced to settle for second place.
As the reigning league champion, Cal Poly’s path to another repeat won’t be easy.
“That’s the way it is every year,” Escalera said. “It’s typically between us and (UC) Santa Barbara for the league title.”
UC Santa Barbara finished in third place at 7-2 a year ago, behind San Diego State, which compiled an 8-1 mark.
San Diego State, in addition to the Gauchos, could present itself as a league threat, Escalera explained.
“They’re a really good all-around team this year,” he said of the Aztecs, who handed the Mustangs their only league loss a season ago. “Their six, seven and eight (positions) are really good.”
The season opener will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the fields of the Cal Poly Rec Center.
More information, including a full 2008 schedule and a complete, current team roster can be found online at www.CalPolyRugby.com.