Heartbreak in Abbotsford: Rugby Provincials

Mr. Adam Gaffney
A tight scrum between the Saints and the Stags

To most students of St. George’s, May 25th was just another Wednesday. If anything, it was closer to exams and the summer break. However, to the 30 selected First XV players that boarded the bus in the morning, it was the beginning of the journey for one goal: the Provincial Championship. Everything they had practiced, all games they played, all blood and sweat put into training came down to this, and the coaches made sure everyone on the bus was fully aware of that.

After a long bus ride, the First XV arrived at Rotary Stadium, where the opening ceremony and team photos were taking place. All teams participating in the provincial tournament, scholarship winners, and the creation of a new division (Quad A) were announced. The teams competing for the AAAA title were Earl Marriot, Shawnigan Lake, Oak Bay, and St. George’s. Saints were to play Oak Bay, who they’ve beaten previously at UVic Stadium 25-22, on Thursday at 6pm, following Shawnigan and Earl Marriot’s match.

After a short practice and a rather relaxing night, the First XV was ready to go. In the cool, overcast weather, the second AAAA semifinal match kicked off. From kickoff, Saints was the stronger team. It wasn’t a close game like the previous one in the UVic Stadium Series. St. George’s put up their first points 13 minutes into the game when Will Sauder (12) saw the space on the blind side to find winger Chris Bonner (12) with a perfect 15 meter pass, which led to a 25 meter run that led to a try. For the next 10 minutes, Saints saw many opportunities in Oak Bay’s zone but couldn’t convert. That was until Captain and flanker Graham Hyslop (12) tackled Oak Bay’s number 8 off a scrum, which led to a knock-on, resulting in a scrum for Saints on the Barbarians’ 5-meter line. Saints won the scrum, and inside centre Keegan Matheson (12) ran a hard, bruising, crash ball to score the second try of the game. About 7 minutes later, Saints saw an overlap on their right side of the field, and outside centre Justin Foti (12) executed the 2 on 1 perfectly and dished the ball to Bonner, who stiff-armed and bounced his defender off to score his second try of the game.

Mac Shepard (12) winning a lineout
Rick MacDonald
Mac Shepard (12) winning a line-out

Disappointed by their first half performance, Oak Bay was determined for the second half. 3 minutes into the half, after multiple phases, the Barbarian inside centre broke the line off a trail ball and touched it down in the corner, to make the score 15-5. 3 minutes after, Saints saw yet another opportunity when they saw themselves at Oak Bay’s 5-metre line. They executed their maul off the lineout flawlessly, and sneaky and slippery Owen Pitblado (12) caught the post defenders sleeping when he dove for a try off the ruck. With 15 minutes remaining in the game, Saints’ back line displayed their passing abilities, when the ball got whipped from one end to the other, resulting in Samuel Sirlin’s (10) first try for the First XV. That try basically wrapped up the game, and the scoreboard showed 25-5 when the final whistle blew. Saints, despite the blowout, didn’t have much to celebrate, since they haven’t reached their goal yet.

Chris Bonner casts his deadly stiff-arm on an Oak Bay defender
Rick MacDonald
Chris Bonner casts his deadly stiff-arm on an Oak Bay defender

2 days later, British Columbia saw another classic match between St. George’s and Shawnigan Lake School. Whether they liked it or not, Saints were clearly the underdogs. Shawnigan, which has won the last six triple A titles of the last 7 years, were eager to continue their legacy, especially after beating Saints at home a few months back at home 52-17. In the rainy day where another blowout like the previous year was expected, there were far more Stags fans to be seen than Saints. The Stags also blew out their opponent Earl Marriot in the semi-finals with an eye-opening score of 102-10. None of this, however, mattered to Saints, since they were only “out here to play some rugby and have fun,” as Coach Chamberlain said on the bus when the team arrived at Rotary Stadium. In classic Vancouver condition, the AAAA provincial final kicked off.

It was only just under 5 minutes after kickoff when the unexpected happened. About 15 meters out of the Stags’ zone, Saints stole Shawnigan’s scrum, leading to the number 8 and the only starting Grade 11 Noah King to pick the ball. Multiple pick and go’s from the tough Saints forwards followed. However, the try wasn’t awarded, but it was still Saints’ possession on the 5, when Sauder tapped and passed it to Spencer Cooper, (12) who gained 4 meters of ground. Then, slippery lock Nicholas Good (12) scored the try with a pick and go. Saints bench and fans were going wild, and the Stags looked stunned. Both teams knew this match was going to be a war. Unfortunately, Sauder missed the conversion.

Keegan does his thing
Mr. Adam Gaffney
Keegan does his thing

For the rest of the half, it was scoreless. Shawnigan had possession most of the time and Saints played excellent defence. That was until the final play of the half, when the Stags were on the Saints’ 22. After a victorious lineout and multiple pick and go’s, the Stags spread the ball and got it to their bruising number 8, Carson O’Sullivan, who broke several tackles and touched the ball down to end the half on a positive note.

Sauder, Matheson, and Sirlin committing to a tackle
Mr. Adam Gaffney
Sauder, Matheson, and Sirlin committing to a tackle

8 minutes into the second half, Shawnigan was penalized on their own 22. Sauder chose to take a shot between the posts, which would give St. George’s a 1-point lead. The score was 8-7 for Saints.

With a little over 10 minutes remaining in the game, Saints forced a turnover on their 22, when they knocked the ball on, leading to a quick turnover. The Stags capitalized, and outside centre Seth Purdey scored a rather easy try in the corner in what probably was the turning point of the game.

For the rest of the game, Saints were desperately trying to score. However, they couldn’t convert their opportunities. They lost the ruck when they were inches away from the end zone, and the Stags booted the ball away. With two minutes remaining, Sauder chipped the ball up, and Pitblado dribbled the ball just a bit too deep for him to jump on it in the end zone.

Owen Pitblado (12) dribbles the ball into the end zone
Mr. Adam Gaffney
Owen Pitblado (12) dribbles the ball into the end zone

With a little over a minute left, O’Sullivan on an 8-pick along the sideline until King tackled him out of bounds. They still had a chance. The bench was going wild, until they noticed Shawnigan bench running onto the field. After a moment of confusion, they realized the final whistle had gone. Several graduating players from St. George’s dropped to their knees in sadness.

Captain Graham Hyslop remained positive and stated “that was the best game I’ve ever played.” Vice Captain Owen Pitblado got emotional, but was extremely proud of the effort, including Matheson’s torn ears, who refused to let his matchup Jim Newman break the line. The award presentation followed, with Stags’ flanker Nick Chan winning the man of match and Sam Turner (12) winning it for Saints.

Emotional post-game huddle
Mr. Adam Gaffney
Emotional post-game huddle

 

Despite the loss, Saints made a point that they were very capable of beating the rugby powerhouse of British Columbia. And they made sure Shawnigan was fully aware of such fact in this physical game in the cold, wet weather at Rotary Stadium. Until next year. #84