Firsts still rolling
St. Albert's premier men playing their best rugby of the season on the eve of playoffs
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 04:15 pm
Ellerslie Rugby Park – The Strathcona Druids were on the receiving end of a strong message delivered in Saturday’s decisive win by St. Albert's premier men's rugby team.
“We knew it was a huge game and we were definitely prepared,” said Brett Kelly, captain and eight-man of the firsts, after the 42-27 decision. “We were using this game to build for playoffs because we realize we’re going to face them in the first round.”
Both teams will butt heads in the north semifinal Sept. 14.
The surging first 15 improved to 6-5 in the Alberta Cup table after their third straight victory and the fourth in five matches despite a different cast of characters every time. Against the Druids (6-6) they were missing, amongst others, scrum-half Jake Robinson, forward Kyle Gilmour and backs Adam Bontus and Duncan Maguire to the Calgary-based Wolfpack in the Canadian Rugby Championship circuit.
“It was a huge win for the boys, especially when we didn’t have the Wolfpack guys here today,” Kelly said. “There were a lot of guys that stepped up and definitely fit in. They didn’t look out of place by any means. You can’t ask for any more from the boys.”
It was another confidence booster for the firsts without several quality starters in the line-up.
“Our second team guys stepped up really well and I’m really proud of them,” said head coach Jo Hull. “What we’re doing now is building a squad as opposed to 15 starters.”
The firsts pulled up their socks after a troubling and injury-riddled 2-4 start to the season and both victories were against the winless Calgary Irish.
“We’ve got a plan and we’re sticking to it,” Hull said. “We’re getting better every time we play. There is a real belief with this team that now we can do it. The team is focused and training hard. We’re doing a lot more fitness too and it shows how we’re playing as well.”
Simon Hill, a retired player coaching the men’s second division team, is the fitness taskmaster in charge of transforming the players into lean, mean rugby machines.
“He’s been working with everyone on their fitness because that’s his background and it’s been huge. It’s starting to pay off,” Kelly said.
The firsts will need all hands on deck next Saturday against the hated Clansmen (7-4) in their last game before the playoffs. Game time is 4 p.m. at the Airway Park.
“It’s the same as this game. We’re taking it like it’s a stepping stone for the playoffs. The Clan also beat us the first time we played them (29-17 in the season opener) so it’s another one of those revenge games,” said Kelly, 24, referring to the 23-9 loss to the Druids on June 1.
The firsts have lost five of their last six matches against the Clan (7-4), including the 2012 north final for the Ken Ann Cup to determine the Edmonton Rugby Union rep for provincials.
The Clan will play the firsts or Druids in the Sept. 28 final for a provincial berth.
“To us (next Saturday against the Clan), it’s just another game but undoubtedly that is the game that we’re targeting. We’ve got a point to prove after the first time we played them,” Hull said. “We’ll approach it the way we would approach any game. We’ll go into it and we’ll focus on what we do and we’ll stick to our plan.”
The scrappy, hard-hitting affair against the Druids brought out the best in the firsts. The team’s first of six tries was scored in the seventh minute by prop Angus MacDonald on a long, bruising run from inside the 22-metre line.
The first half ended with the firsts on top 21-3. Try scorers were forward Johnny Moloney, set up by Kelly's grunt work, and British import Antony Fitch on a nifty run. Fitch converted all three tries in the opening half, but was unlucky on a drop goal attempt and missed the posts on a penalty kick from outside the 22.
Early in the second half, winger Matt Jarvis finished off a brilliant give-and-go play and Fitch made the conversion.
The Druids replied with two tries, one converted, in a five-minute span.
The firsts responded with winger Mitch Millett’s dash through traffic into the try area and Fitch’s conversion made it 35-15.
After a converted try by the Druids, Fitch’s long penalty kick attempt fell short of the mark. A few minutes later the leading candidate for the team’s MVP award executed a cheeky chip and chase and converted his own try.
The Druids ended the match with a try.
“I’m really pleased today with our physicality, discipline and our attack. We knew that these guys were strong, a physical force, and we wanted to take them up front and that’s exactly what the guys did. In the font row, we received a huge effort from Gus (Angus MacDonald), Robert Blunden and Colum Murphy,” Hull said. “Although we did come off the plan a little bit for 20 minutes in the second half, these things happen, but I was pleased with the performance today.”