Firsts whip Clan
St. Albert's premier men's rugby team scores playoff berth in Ken Ann Cup north final
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 06:00 am
Airway Park – The demise of St. Albert premier men's rugby has been greatly exaggerated.
Written off halfway through the season as a team on the decline, the first 15 reversed their fading fortunes to finish as the No. 1 north team in the Alberta Cup playoffs.
The exclamation mark to the dramatic turnaround was Saturday's 32-6 rout of the Clansmen on their home pitch to secure a spot in the Ken Ann Cup north final.
“It’s all about perseverance,” said winger Brad Angove, who should know about overcoming obstacles as St. Albert’s perennial Golden Crutch Award candidate for injuries sustained in the line of battle. “We’ve got coaches who are awesome. They've been evaluating us since the beginning of the season and figuring out what we needed to do. They've really sorted of us out for where we need to be at this point in the season as opposed to the beginning.”
The fourth straight win and fifth in the last six matches catapulted the firsts past the Clan to finish one point ahead of their bitter rivals for third place in the premier table. Both teams are 7-5 overall.
“It’s exactly what we were hoping to do,” Angove said of the first win against the Clan after four straight defeats, dating back to last season. “We wanted to send a message today and we certainly did that.”
The firsts pulled off a five-point performance – four for the win, plus the bonus for scoring four tries – with four second-half scores, including two in the last 10 minutes of play.
“We knew we needed the four tries and the bonus point to make it happen but we came in sort of not thinking about that. We came in just thinking about winning the game,” said standoff Troy Jeffs.
A greasy ball in the rain turned the showdown into a battle of the forwards and St. Albert’s powerful pack tortured the Clan.
“The forwards really stood out. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have been able to go forward,” Jeffs said. “In this weather the boys had to stay tight and they really held it together really well and put the pressure to them for the whole 80 minutes and not the 40 or 60 we’ve done in the past.”
The firsts jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on penalty kicks by Jeffs from near the 40-metre line in the third minute and outside the 22 in the 13th minute.
The Clan replied with a pair of penalties, with the equalizer from inside the 40 in the 39th minute.
At halftime the firsts were not discouraged by their low point despite the advantage in play.
“If we got our foot going forward we knew we could get the tries eventually and it showed. The boys came out and played a whole 40 and the points came,” said Jeffs, who fueled the fire for an explosive second half with a determined try in the 47th minute.
Twelve minutes later, after Jeffs missed a penalty from inside the 22, Angove fielded a bouncing kick around the 40 and chugged into the try area as fans delightfully chatted his name. Jeffs’ conversion made it 18-6.
“We had a lot of momentum going already because of the way our forwards were playing but it was nice to still help take a little bit of the pressure off and it kind of allowed us to get our heads straight,” Angove said of his try.
As time ticked down, New Zealand import Sam Norris, who switched from fullback to scrum-half in the second half, stunned the slow-footed Clan with a quick penalty play from outside the five-metre line following a big romp by Mitch Millett into scoring range. Millett was a second half sub in the backs who played in the second division’s 20-10 win over the Clan in the match before the premier tilt.
After the conversion by Jeffs, the firsts bulldozed their way to within spitting distance of the try line. A lineout ball at the five was converted into a try by prop Colum Murphy. The Irish import bust into the try area on his second robust attempt to score after the lineout.
Jeffs' conversion wrapped up Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of the Clan.
“It’s always great to beat the Clan. And to do it twice on the same day on their field is even sweeter,” said Angove with a smile as big as a pitcher of beer.
Angove’s return to the first 15 coincided with the team’s winning ways. He didn’t play last year while recovering from knee surgery after getting hurt playing second row in the 2011 second division semifinal in Leduc. It was the latest in a long line of rugby injuries for the former St. Albert High Skyhawks’ football player.
“I’ve had a broken jaw. Previous to that I had the shattered collarbone and I had surgery on that as well. I’ve also got some chronic problems with my right shoulder. It dislocates every now and then, like every couple of weeks,” said the Paul Kane High School alumnus.
So why is Angove still rucking and mauling?
“It’s the sport I love and it’s with the people I love. It’s nice being on the sideline too. It’s a fun game to watch but it’s nothing compared to the feeling you get playing with your brothers,” said Angove, 23, a dedicated club member who filled up the water bottles for the second 15 before their match with the Clan and then ran touch for the team in the first half before joining the firsts for their pre-game warm-up.
The firsts will now prepare to battle the north semifinal winner, the Clan or Strathcona Druids (6-6) in the Sept. 28 north final at 4 p.m. at Ellerslie Rugby Park for the right to represent the Edmonton Rugby Union in the Labatt’s Cup provincial final Oct. 5 at Ellerslie.
“Hopefully we can be as strong as we were today,” said Jeffs, 21.
The rugby product of the Cowra Eagles in New South Wales was a surprise starter at standoff, as the coaching staff elected to use British import Antony Fitch, arguably the most valuable player on the firsts this year, for the second 15 match. Teams are allowed to dress a maximum of three imports in a match.
A brilliant Fitch did all the scoring – two tries, two conversions and penalty kicks from inside the 40 in the first half and outside the 22 to end the match – for a formidable second 15 side as St. Albert and the Clan finished their ERU campaigns with identical 5-8-1 records.
It was Jeffs’ first premier match since suffering a lower back injury in the 37-17 win over the Canucks on July 13 in Calgary.
“I had that injury a little while back and I’ve been putting a lot of effort in trying to get myself back fit and try and get my spot back,” Jeffs said. “Overall I was pretty happy with how I played today but there is always room to improve. I’ve definitely got things to work on.”