Homegrown rugby talent on the rise
SARFC feeder system pumps players into senior ranks
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am
The next generation of St. Albert rugby players to perform on the premier pitch will follow in the paths of current homegrown products excelling at the national level.
The latest junior alumnus to compete for Canada on the international stage is speedster Duncan Maguire at the IRB Sevens World Series this weekend in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 24-year-old sevens’ winger and St. Albert first 15 fixture also played at the South Africa Sevens in December and the USA Sevens in January in Las Vegas and has a shot at competing for Canada at next weekend’s World Series stop in London, England.
National team prop Andy Tiedemann and forward Kyle Gilmour – the 2013 Edmonton Rugby Union senior men’s player of the year – has caps in sevens and was on the Canadian team with Tiedemann and Maguire and St. Albert forward Kyle Baillie at the 2013 IRB Americas Rugby Championship – have also raised the bar for St. Albert juniors to succeed internationally.
St. Albert Rugby Football Club president and player Matt Herod sees a new wave of U19 and U17 juniors poised to make their mark in the senior men’s ranks.
“We have a strong group coming up. Some of them are ready to play second division rugby,” Herod said. “We’ve been at the top with the premier team but if we don’t have anything coming up behind them you can only sustain that top level for so long so it’s very exciting to see how strong our junior program is.”
Last year a large roster of U17 juniors finished 10-0 as ERU champions for their second Ron Allen Cup in three years and the U19s reached the ERU semifinals after losing the final the year before.
The junior fixtures kick off after the high school rugby season.
Herod rattled off a list of names like forwards Brett Clow and Austen McDonald, scrum-half Jesse Shirton and fullback Chad Monai-Brophy as promising SARFC juniors on the verge of achieving senior men’s status.
McDonald, last year’s U17 captain who was named the SARFC second division rookie of the year after a late season audition, and Monai-Brophy were also the recipients of the Gareth Jones Shield as the U17 player of the year in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“Brophy is probably one of the best players at his age in the country right now,” Herod said.
With the future looking bright, the first and second 15 teams are in good shape to kick off the season May 10 at Ellerslie Rugby Park. The seconds tangle with the provincial champion Nor’Westers at 2:15 p.m. in the ERU and the firsts scrum down against the Calgary Saints at 4 p.m. in the Alberta Cup.
Jo Hull returns as the SARFC field general as the firsts strive to return to the provincial final for the sixth time in seven years. The only Labatt’s Cup provincial celebration in SARFC history was 2010.
“With the players we see coming back and with the experience of some of our top players like Adam Bontus, Kyle Gilmour and Duncan Maguire playing a lot of sevens over the winter, the experience these guys are bringing to training, as well as what Jo has brought to training, is incredible. I don’t think we’ve had as much knowledge and experience within the club that we do now. To learn off these guys and see their intensity and try and match that our club is definitely getting better top to bottom,” Herod said. “We’ve also got a couple of top imports coming in that should really help us showcase St. Albert rugby.”
Once again the firsts will have to come out on top in the north playoffs to challenge the Calgary Rugby Union rep for the Labatt’s Cup.
“We always feel that we’re the strongest team here in the north but the Clan is always there. The Druids can put it together too,” said Herod, noting the Nor’Westers and the Lep/Tigers have rejoined the Alberta Cup after lengthy absences.
Last year the firsts overcame a slow start to finish 8-6 overall after going 6-8 in 2012 as the north finalists.
The kings of the pitch are still the Calgary Hornets, winners of three Labatt’s Cups in a row and four in the last five years.
“This goes for any team in the AC; if you’re not concerned about the Hornets I think you’re overlooking them and they’re not a team to be overlooked obviously. They’re the strongest program in the south, there is no doubt about it,” Herod said of the team that’s beat SARFC in eight consecutive matches, including provincial finals in 2009 (24-22), 2011 (31-13) and 2013 (47-10) at Ellerslie.
“In the back of all of our minds we want to win championships but we want to beat the Hornets for those championships. It’s one of those things where the longer you don’t beat them the more they get into your head.”
The firsts will give it their best shot against the Hornets on May 24 in Calgary.
“It would be really nice honestly to get a W against them in the regular season and have that confidence moving into the playoffs,” Herod said. “There is not one person who plays at the club who doesn’t want to play in that game and wouldn’t want to be part of that team when we do beat them.”