SARFC battles Hornets in cup final
Provincial honours at stake today in premier men's rugby
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 05, 2013 06:00 am
The tradition continues today when provincial powers St. Albert Rugby Football Club and the Calgary Hornets collide for the Labatt’s Cup.
Kickoff is 4 p.m. at Ellerslie Rugby Park between SARFC, competing in its fifth premier men’s final in six years after the first 15 hoisted the second division provincial Lor-Ann Cup in 2007, and the Hornets, two-time defending champions and winners of three of the last four provincial titles.
“It’s good to be back where we belong and we have one more game to go to get the job done,” Adam Bontus, a physical inside-centre, told the Gazette at Tuesday’s training session at Wild Rose field.
The Hornets – four-time consecutive Alberta Cup pennant winners – are the team to beat with only one loss in 12 matches this year after going 13-1 in 2012.
“They’re a good team. They will be strong in all areas. They play a good pace. They’ve got a lot of discipline with the coaching staff they have in place,” Bontus said. “For us to be successful we’ve got to be disciplined on defence and make sure we keep the work rate up on defence and offence. There are lots of things to be done to win a game but we’ve just got to minimize our mistakes and capitalize on their mistakes as much as we can.”
The Hornets have stung SARFC in seven-straight matches, including the provincial finals in 2009 (24-22 upset of the undefeated firsts) and 2011 (31-13 to end an 11-game winning streak by the 2010 champions).
“I would say on paper we’re probably the favourites just because of our track record but we all know how tough this weekend is going to be against St. Albert,” said Gordie McRorie, the Hornets’ scrum-half, in Wednesday’s phone interview. “We just have to expect and be ready for a big, hard game.”
McRorie, 25, stressed the Hornets are good but not great.
“With only one loss we’ve been pretty strong but we haven’t really played to our full potential yet,” said the third-year Hornet from the Stirling County Rugby Football Club in Scotland.
SARFC (8-5) is definitely a team to fear with five-straight convincing results, including last weekend’s 32-5 dismantlement of the Clansmen in the Ken Ann Cup north final for its sixth victory in seven matches.
“I think this will be the first game where they’ve had their full squad together. They have no injuries and most of their star players are back,” said McRorie, a teammate of several SARFC players with the Calgary-based Prairie Wolfpack in the Canadian Rugby Championship league.
“They have a very, very strong squad with the likes of Kyle Gilmour and (Johnny) Moloney up front, along with Bontus and (Duncan) Maguire in the centres and at scrum-half as well in Jake Robinson,” McRorie added. “They’re also going to bring a big threat in the pack with the likes of Moloney, a huge guy, and Brett (Kelly) in the second row. In the backs, Maguire and Bontus are a huge threat, especially if they get a forward ball.”
SARFC is playing a superior brand of rugby after its last loss, 34-28 to the Hornets in July in Calgary. The turnaround started in the next match with a 50-5 rout of the Calgary Saints, who were battling the Hornets for first place at the time.
“It was something we discussed as players before that Saints’ game. We needed to turn it around mentally and start putting our best foot forward each game,” Bontus said. “Johnny kind of said it best to us before that game and we all just bought in. We’ve always respected what the coaches are telling us but we’re actually putting it to use on the field now. The guys are just keen to do what’s best for the team.
“The big difference I guess is that our pack has improved a lot.”
SARFC will build on its last tilt against the Hornets in preparation for the big game.
“It’s definitely better having that game against them going into the final than our first game of the year against them when they smashed us pretty good,” Bontus said of the 58-10 punishment inflicted by the Hornets in June at Ellerslie. “We both know we’re different teams at this time of the year, even since our last meeting, so we can’t really take what we did against them last time for granted. We know what they’re capable of but we’ve got to play our own game really.”
McRorie pointed out the last win against SARFC was misleading.
“The game was a little bit weird. We got ahead pretty early by quite a bit and then we actually pulled the foot off the gas and let St. Albert come back into the game,” he said. “It was a close game but we should’ve won by a lot more. We got complacent and St. Albert obviously took advantage of that. They were dangerous in that situation and I don’t think we’ll have any complacency in the final.”
The Hornets historically play the same brand of winning rugby.
“The past couple of years their backs have been pretty similar but their forward pack has changed a little bit. The big thing is they always have depth. That is their claim to fame. I think they have more guys than any other team in the province,” said Bontus, noting the Hornets are also in the second division provincial final today against the Nor’Westers at 2 p.m. at Ellerslie.
The Hornets are basically the same squad as in previous years and it’s reflected in their winning record.
“The consistency of the players and the game plan is huge for us. Everyone knows the game plan inside and out and the last few years that’s a big plus for us,” McRorie said. “The forwards give us a good platform and the backs can finish anything off and they’re pretty relentless in that manner.”
The ringleader of the Hornets’ attack isn’t concerned about scrumming down for the Labatt’s Cup outside of Calgary.
“I don’t think it matters too much. Two years ago I played in the final as well (at Ellerslie against SARFC) and we won,” McRorie said. “If anything it forces the Hornets to play better. It might even work to our advantage that we’re away from home and we know we have to put in a performance to win.”
There is no home field advantage for SARFC, 0-2 in provincial finals at Ellerslie. The firsts also haven’t played a home game since July of 2012 because of reclamation work to the club’s Leading Edge fields.
“Hopefully we’ve got a few more fans than they do. It’s always nice to hear a big roar,” said Bontus, 26, a high school rugby product of the St. Albert Skyhawks. “It’s good to be the enemy and it’s good to be the hero sometimes on the field so it doesn’t matter if we play there (at Ellerslie) or Calgary.”
Admission is $5 and youths 12 and under get in free.
SCRUM BALLS: Spotted at Tuesday’s training was second row Kyle Baillie, who appeared in a handful of premier matches this year when he wasn’t rucking and mauling for The Rock in the CRC circuit.
Baillie, along with Wolfpack players’ Gilmour and Maguire of the firsts, Nick Blevins of the Hornets in the backs and Andy Tiedemann, a national team prop and SARFC alumnus, were named to Canada’s 25-man roster for the IRB Americas Rugby Championship in Langford, B.C.
Canada plays Uruguay on Thursday, USA Eagles on Oct. 15 and Argentina on Oct. 19.