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EIRA Player Spotlight - Anthony Salaber

College Men

EIRA Player Spotlight - Anthony Salaber

Salaber garners some attention from the Penn State backs. ABFlyer photo.

The story of Cal’s Varsity Cup semifinal victory over Penn State had a bit of repetition about it.

Anthony Salaber fends off a tackler, Salaber makes a half-break, Malcolm May tackles him.

Salaber, who was a standout at Dixon HS and the HS All Americans before moving on to star for Cal, smiled after the game at the image.

“Malcolm’s a great player and we’ve played against each other and with each other since high school,” said the 6-5 Cal center of the Penn State flanker. “I’ve been tackled by him a lot of times, and we does that and gets back up and does it again.”

Because of Penn State’s tenacity on defense, Cal needed to be patient, Salaber especially so. He is a big body who is tough to bring down, but he didn’t bust out that massive break. Instead, Salaber was charged with making little inroads, and offloading, or setting the ruck for the next movement. 

“Playing a good game of rugby is like chiseling some marble. You’re never going to get it all in one stroke so we kept chipping away, chipping away,” Salaber explained. 

But eventually they did make big plays, namely scoring quick tries right after Penn State had scored. 

“It’s a great feeling to get that momentum shift and come back so quickly to get a try,” said Salaber.

So, a 35-14 win over Penn State. Another Varsity Cup final. But a Cal team that has had to find some backup to fill in for injuries, and move some players around. They got four tries from freshmen - two from Damon Wiley and two from Keanu Andrade. But perhaps the one that really stuck the knife in was wing Jake Goena, who absorbed a hit and slid out of another while right on the touchline, kept his balance and then dove in at the corner.

Goena is a bit of a baller, one who relishes the challenge of a big-time rugby game. That was a big play.

We asked Salaber to rate Cal’s recent performance out of 100. 

“For this last game I would give it about 80%,” he said. “We gave it about 60 hard minutes so maybe 75%. We have a ways to go in terms of our scrummaging and fixing our lineouts. I thought the boys played with heart and I really appreciated it.”

Cal survived the set piece, starting, as they did, a freshman at tighthead against a very good Penn State tight five. Cal Assistant Coach Mike MacDonald, who played for the USA 67 times, told the Bears “these are the best props we’ve faced.”

So it was a case of holding firm in the scrum, which they generally did, and executing in the lineout, which they didn’t. Cal might have stolen some Penn State throws - Penn State’s lineout had issues, for sure - but the Bears didn’t fire on their bread-and-butter platform. Salaber acknowledged that, too needed work.

No talk, really, about Russell Webb’s kicking issues. The flyhalf struck the ball well in his seven conversion attempts. All missed, with six drifting wide left. But while Webb looked displeased with his effort, and it was, unmistakably, 14 points not claimed by Cal, there seemed nothing all that wrong with how the flyhalf was getting the ball into the air. Watch for Webb to be much more accurate in the final.

And expect Anthony Salaber to keep chiseling away.