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Rugby fields pitch perfect

St. Albert Rugby Football Club celebrates grand re-opening of fields July 12

By: Jeff Hansen

  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 06:00 am

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The return of rugby to St. Albert is only a drop goal away.

The grand re-opening of the St. Albert Rugby Football Club fields kicks off July 12 to celebrate the completion of the reclamation work and outdoor facility enhancement projects that started in August of 2012.

“We’re real excited to play in front of our fans again,” said SARFC president Matt Herod. “It’s going to be the four best fields in the province condition-wise to play on.

Last year every match was a road trip for SARFC teams.

“It was just a weird year. You’re travelling to go to training, you’re travelling for every game and there was no real home base for us. There was no comfort of walking into our dressing rooms knowing that we’re playing in front of our fans,” said Herod, a back-row player. “Our fans travel very well and if we were in Ellerslie or Leduc we had a contingent of old boys and fans there but you know when you’re playing at the St. Albert rugby club it’s a packed house and it’s definitely exciting.”

The initial christening of the fields was pushed back from June 28 to ensure the pitches are in pristine shape.

“The actual contract is for August 1 so that’s pretty much a guarantee that we’ll have them by then but we hope to grab them early obviously,” said Herod of the deadline for the project to be signed off by the construction company.

He was buoyed by a recent update from SARFC grounds’ director Doug Krempien on the state of fields, which were rated among the very best in Canada before they were torn up.

“Outside of a few little patches here and a little work there to be done, he says the fields are going to be in incredible shape,” Herod said. “With the uprights there is a little bit of work to be done but they’re up. As for the watering system we’re just thawing out the ice and it will be up and running. Some sod has to go in around the playground and leading up the change rooms too.

“Overall, with all things considered, everything looks phenomenal. The rain the last couple of days also helped as well.”

A sprawling four-tier deck, built through the assistance of a City of St. Albert Community Capital Grant, is the luxury seat to the high definition view of the grounds.

“It’s got that really good feeling to it when you step up to the desk and look at four pitches, a cricket pitch, the scoreboard and everything else,” Herod said of the best outdoor social gathering spot in St. Albert. “We can all agree it’s not just the nicest deck in rugby right now but probably the nicest deck in St. Albert. There is no better place to grab a pint and have a beer.”

The suds will be flowing at the July 12 triple-header, with the Alberta Cup tussle between the premier men and the scrappy Lep/Tigers the main event for the grand re-opening.

“The LTs are definitely keen to be back in the first division again so they will give us a good game,” Herod said.

The men’s and women’s May fixtures were released this week and the SARFC season lid-lifter is the Edmonton Rugby Union women’s spring league match next Saturday against the Rockers at 12:30 p.m. at Ellerslie.

The women’s team was on shaky ground after yet another disappointing season of lopsided defeats and a skeleton crew of players but Herod is confident new head coach Byron Elliott, a premier player in the twilight of his career, and an aggressive recruiting campaign will turn things around.

“I would almost guarantee they will win more than two games. We only had 15 players for maybe two games for all of last year so the fact that they were even able to pull out a couple of wins is just amazing,” Herod said. “At the end of last year and in the winter this year we were not sure that the women’s program was going to go but a lot of credit has to go to Jasmine Fleming (director of senior rugby) and Krystal Florence (women’s club captain) and some of the girls on the board that have really taken upon themselves to recruit players and find a coach and do the work that a lot of people don’t want to do and because of that we have seen a huge increase in numbers this year.”

The men’s teams kick off their fixtures May 10 at Ellerslie. The seconds tackle the provincial champion Nor’Westers at 2:15 p.m. and the firsts, last year’s provincial finalist, scrum down against the Calgary Saints at 4 p.m.

The first unofficial SARFC home matches of the season before the fields are good to go will be staged at Alpine field May 24. Kickoff times are 12:30 p.m. for the second division men against the Pirates and 2 p.m. for the women’s match against the Grande Prairie Sirens.

SARFC teams will also train twice a week at Alpine, a full-sized pitch approved by the ERU referee society.

As for the men’s program SARFC will not field a third division squad after pulling the plug on the thirds last year in July after a 1-1-1 start. Injuries and lower than expected player numbers required for three teams resulted in the thirds demise.

Herod estimated the men’s ranks experienced a drop-off of 25 players from the previous season for a variety of reasons, but primarily because of a new online registration process mandated by Rugby Canada for insurance purposes. Players had to pay up and have all the paper work completed in advance before they were allowed to ruck and maul. In the past, when the registration guidelines were a lot looser, if players were in a financial bind they could work out payment plans with their club and still play.

The men’s talent pool this year is roughly 40 players for two teams.

“In my opinion you need 80 at the absolute minimum to run three teams and I would say it’s still not enough. Ideally you’re looking at 90 players because of injuries, vacations and everything else,” Herod said. “Obviously we still have one of the top premier teams in the province and across the country and we want to make sure that keeps going. To feed that system you need that second division team and we have a really, really strong youth program coming up behind us that we know will fill the third division in the coming years but there just wasn’t enough this year to do it.”

Part two of Herod’s state of the union address on the upcoming SARFC season will run in Wednesday’s Gazette.


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