Juniors lose rugby finals
St. Albert's U19 and U17 teams fail to advance to provincials
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 25, 2012 06:00 am
Ellerslie Rugby Park – A successful season for St. Albert’s juniors ended in defeat in the Edmonton Rugby Union finals Wednesday.
With a trip to provincials at stake, the U19 squad was humbled 29-14 by the Clansmen B team and the U17s lost 24-3 to the Nor’Westers.
The U19s finished 5-1-1 overall after placing first in league play at 4-0-1.
“Everyone played great all season for us,” said U19 captain Brett Wells. “There is lots of great guys who are going to move forward into men’s and there is lots of young guys that are playing Alberta and they will be playing U19 next year so maybe we’ll get another crack at [the Clan].”
The U17s won four and lost four after going 3-3 for second place in the ERU table.
“I’m very proud of our team. We had a great season,” said U17 captain Austen McDonald. “We had a shaky start but we improved all our basics. We figured out that it’s not the fancy stuff that wins us games, it’s the basics and we really polished those through focus at practice.”
Crushed by Clan
The only loss by the U19s was a disappointment after they beat the Clan 34-17 last month.
The second-place, 4-1 Clan rolled up 17 points before Wells scored off a penalty play from around the five-metre line in the third quarter. The conversion was good.
“I guess they came out harder in the playoffs. They had kind of a week off playing themselves in the semifinal,” Wells said of the Clan’s win against the third-place 2-2-1 Clan A team last week, although no score was posted on the ERU web site.
“The Clan really capitalized on the few small mistakes we made and they put the points up,” Wells added. “We had ball control for most of the game but give it to them because they fought hard.”
The Clan opened the scoring with a converted try in the third minute with three big runs into contact, driving St. Albert back into its try area for points.
In the second quarter the U19s pressed the Clan for several minutes, but were unable to capitalize on field advantage.
The Clan recovered with a big push into St. Albert territory for a try with three minutes left until halftime.
Two minutes into the third quarter the Clan’s try scorer escaped from a tackle en route to making it 17-0.
After the fourth try by the Clan left the U19s trailing by 15, Robert Blunden was yellow carded and then red carded for throwing punches. The Clan players clapped their hands in glee when the U18 Team Alberta player was kicked out of the game to end the third quarter. The promising hooker in the St. Albert men’s ranks left the pitch and went into the stands to confront hecklers sitting in the Clan section, but cooler heads prevailed.
“I guess we kind of got frustrated there,” Wells said.
Ironically, it was suspended U19 eight-man Trent Bennett who helped calm Blunden down after his adventure into the stands. Bennett, another U18 provincial team player in the St. Albert men’s program, sat out the final over a dust-up in the 31-17 semifinal win over the fourth-place Strathcona Druids.
With the U19s short a player, Ollie Clarke broke free for a try and the conversion left St. Albert trailing by eight.
A converted try by the Clan late in the game sealed St. Albert’s fate.
“We thought we had them right until the end, but instead of us scoring they scored,” Wells said. “There were definitely some momentum swings.”
The U19s were unable to complete the comeback after another slow start out of the gate. In the semifinals they rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to down the Druids by 14.
“Almost all of our victories surprisingly have been come-from-behind wins,” said Wells, 19, a Paul Kane High School rugby product who split time at second row and flanker in the loss.
The Nor’Westers exploded for 19 unanswered points in the second half to defeat the U17s in a battle of junior rivals.
“It was a hard match between us and the Nor’Westers. We have a history together. The past four years we’ve won our city championships against them but this year they gave it to us,” McDonald said.
In the first quarter the Nor’Westers scored a try in the 12th minute and leading up to halftime Chad Monai-Brophy kicked a St. Albert penalty.
“In the first half we went out all eight cylinders blazing,” McDonald said.
The Nor’Westers kept the U17s off the board in the second half while posting three ties and two conversions.
“They’re a great team, but we tried our best,” said McDonald, a Grade 11 Paul Kane student who played flanker and eight-man in the loss.
In league play the Nor’Westers finished first at 4-2 and the U17s were No. 2 in the table. Head-to-head the U17s won 16-15 and lost 17-14.
“The first two games we were both pretty inexperienced. I know we weren’t really jelled as a team. In the first game it was pure luck we won by one point,” said McDonald, 16, one of the handful of U17s on the U16 provincial team at nationals recently.