Firsts fall to Druids
Three losses in a row and six in 11 matches for 2011 provincial finalists
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert’s slumping premier men’s rugby team has one match left to get its act together before the playoffs kick off.
Saturday’s 30-18 loss to the Strathcona Druids at Ellerslie Rugby Park was the third in a row for the first 15 and their sixth this year.
The three consecutive losses also tied the longest stretch of futility by the firsts after rejoining the premier ranks following their second division provincial championship in 2007.
Last year the firsts dropped three straight to kick off the fixtures, then rattled off 11 in a row before losing their third provincial final in four years. The 31-13 setback to the Calgary Hornets was only the 10th defeat in 61 matches over the four-year span in premier, highlighted by the first Labatt’s Cup premier title in St. Albert Rugby Football Club history in 2010.
“We expect to win every game and that’s six losses now. We have more losses than wins so that’s a little scary for St. Albert rugby,” said outside-centre Matt Jarvis, the main offensive threat against the Druids with two lengthy tries under the posts.
The loss left the firsts cemented in third place as the second-ranked north team in the Alberta Cup table. The Clansmen (6-4) have a three-point grip on the playoff bye for the Sept. 22 north final with two games remaining, including Saturday’s grudge match against the firsts at 4 p.m. at Airways Park. The Clan and Druids (5-6) also clash on Aug. 30 to end the fixtures.
A St. Albert loss to the Clan would set the stage for the fifth match of the season between the firsts and Druids in the Sept. 8 north semifinal. The series is a saw-off at two wins apiece.
“Obviously there is a sense of urgency, especially after losing our last three games,” Jarvis said. “We’re going to really need to show up. We definitely have to set a tone going into the playoffs.”
Bring on the Clan
Saturday’s tug-of-war with the Clan promises to be a barnburner after the controversial and violent July 5 brawl-filled affair between the bitter rivals resulted in five red cards. Three Clansmen were ejected. Captain Brett Kelly and prop Chris Butlin of the firsts were also tossed and suspended for two matches apiece.
It remains unclear if British import standoff Antony Fitch will start Saturday for the firsts. Fitch suffered a concussion against the Clan when he was kicked in the head by a defender in the try area after his second score of the game with about 10 minutes remaining. Fitch was carted off the field in an ambulance and sent to the University of Alberta Hospital for observation.
The much-maligned referee ruled it was accidental but the firsts were adamant it was deliberate.
Fitch hasn’t played for the firsts since the incident but has seen action with the lowly seconds (4-10).
The Clan won 18-16 with a penalty kick on the last play of the game.
The brouhaha at the Leading Edge Fields prompted Lauren Hawes of Edmonton to write a letter to the editor to the St. Albert Gazette, decrying the “appalling display of poor sportsmanship I witnessed both on the field by St. Albert players and, perhaps more horrifyingly, by St. Albert fans was utterly disgraceful.”
Asked if Saturday’s tilt might turn into a bloodbath, Jarvis replied: “It’s always a fight with those guys. There is not a lot of love lost between those two teams.”
After the loss to the Druids the firsts spent a long soul-searching session wondering what went wrong.
“It’s tough to pinpoint one thing. We played pretty well, we just kind of turned the ball over at inopportune times and they took advantage of it,” Jarvis said. “We just weren’t able to capitalize and they were.”
Jarvis said the loss was similar to the team’s previous defeat, 29-25 against the Calgary Canucks (4-6) in Calgary.
“It was kind of the same thing as this week. We didn’t have very good chase defence for kicks and they were able to beat us on the outside because of that. We just didn’t come up in proper levels so they kind of broke us down on those kind of plays,” said the former fifth-year tailback and MVP of the 2010 Alberta Golden Bears.
The first of two tries by the explosive Jarvis put the firsts up 5-3 in the 22nd minute. Matt Herod’s chip shot on the conversion hit the post.
The try by Jarvis marked only the second time the firsts had crossed the Druids’ 40-metre line at that point in the contest. The first time a penalty ended the drive at the five-metre line. Both times, runs by scrumhalf Jake Robinson got the ball rolling forward for the firsts.
The first half ended with a penalty kick in front of the halfway line by Druids’ standoff Hezron Awoko to make it 6-5. Awoko was 2-for-4 kicking penalties in the opening 40 minutes.
Early in the second half Herod split the uprights with a penalty kick from outside the 22-metre line.
Seven minutes later, the Druids regained the lead with a try off a lineout ball in St. Albert territory. Awoko was successful on the long and difficult conversion.
Herod’s second penalty kick was good from the 22 to close the gap to 13-11.
The Druids added another converted try to lead by nine.
“It was a good, hard battle right from the start. It was pretty even and then we got a score going and then the momentum just carried on from there for us,” Awoko said.
Jarvis, 25, willed the firsts back into contention with an energetic dash late in the match. The team’s rookie of the year in 2011 bolted past a couple of defenders down the touchline before faking out a tackler inside the 22 for clear sailing into the try area. Herod’s conversion left the firsts trailing 20-18.
Five minutes after the try, Awoko stroked a sharp-angle penalty kick through the posts.
“It was on the far side of the field, just inside the 22, and luckily it just went through with the wind,” Awoko said.
With under three minutes left, a flanker on the Druids broke his arm and the game had to be moved to another pitch. When play resumed, the firsts twice had possession of the ball but were unable to push forward for a shot at the try area.
The Druids ended the game with a converted try.
“We knew it would be a hard game. St. Albert has big, fit guys and we just wanted to grind it down and keep it nice and tight. We recognized where your dangermen were and what you guys were doing and adjusted really well,” said Awoko, a former Lep/Tiger in his first year with the Druids.