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Seconds start strong

SARFC second division men's team topples Nor'Westers, last year's provincial champions, to kick off rugby fixtures

By: Jeff Hansen

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 06:00 am

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  • POWER PLAY - Fancy footwork by Byron Elliott of St. Albert left a Nor'Wester sprawled out on the pitch in Saturday's second division match in the Edmonton Rugby Union. The seconds defeated last year's provincial champions 26-25 at Ellerslie Rugby Park.
    POWER PLAY - Fancy footwork by Byron Elliott of St. Albert left a Nor'Wester sprawled out on the pitch in Saturday's second division match in the Edmonton Rugby Union. The seconds defeated last year's provincial champions 26-25 at Ellerslie Rugby Park.
    APRIL BARTLETT/St. Albert Gazette
  • SPLITTING THE DEFENCE - Justin (Bomber) Armitt of St. Albert busts through a pair of tacklers in Saturday's 26-25 win over the Nor'Westers at Ellerslie Rugby Park. It was the season opener for both second division teams in the Edmonton Rugby Union.
    SPLITTING THE DEFENCE - Justin (Bomber) Armitt of St. Albert busts through a pair of tacklers in Saturday's 26-25 win over the Nor'Westers at Ellerslie Rugby Park. It was the season opener for both second division teams in the Edmonton Rugby Union.

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Ellerslie Rugby Park – One of the most talented second division lineups assembled by the St. Albert Rugby Football Club in recent years knocked off the reigning provincial champion to kick off the season.

A winning combination of premier and second 15 team calibre players, young and old with grit and flash sprinkled throughout the forwards and backs, handed the Nor’Westers their first loss since 2012 on a chilly Saturday afternoon in the Edmonton Rugby Union.

The 26-25 margin of victory was deceiving as the Nor'Westers ended the match with a converted try.

“It was a good first game for the seconds today, said Antony Fitch, the bearded standoff from Britain who kicked three penalties and one conversion. “We came together as a team. It was nice team togetherness out there.”

Despite the odd hiccup by the seconds everybody was on the same page.

“It was hit and miss. Obviously with the first game of a new season there is going to be mistakes and knock-ons,” Fitch said. “The big thing was we had a game plan and we stuck to it. We played a nice tight game.”

The seconds dominated the opening 15 minutes with deep penetration but penalties turned the ball over as the Nor’Westers regained breathing room.

Quality runs by Fitch, Mitch Millett and Byron Elliott pushed the seconds close to the try area before the stumbling in scoring range.

After another scoring chance ended with a penalty, Elliott yelled “Dial in!” to his teammates as they backtracked into defensive positions.

“We had a lot of white line fever. We were too eager to get over the try line rather than just going through the hands and doing the basics,” Fitch said.

After starting off on their back foot the Nor’Westers eventually crossed the halfway line and scored a try under the posts in the 20th minute and the conversion was good.

The seconds replied 11 minutes later with Fitch’s penalty kick in front of the 40-metre line.

During a dangerous stint by the Nor’Westers in St. Albert territory Fitch kicked for touch a couple of times to force the 2013 Lor Ann Cup winners to regroup.

The seconds closed out the first half with Aaron Weicker the finisher on a ball spun right to left with several touches – captain Graeme Scott and Justin (Bomber) Armitt showed good form on the play – before the youthful winger sprinted into the try area. Fitch’s conversion made it 10-7.

Early in the second half during a four-minute span Fitch split the posts from inside the 22-metre line on an angle and after a sin-bin infraction to the Nor’Westers he cleared the bar with an arrow from outside the 22 to increase the lead to nine.

The seconds, bolstered by substitutions at halftime – most notably forward Johnny Moloney, the premier team’s MVP last year – kept the Nor’Westers bottled up until they scored off a penalty play in the 58th minute.

Nine minutes later, after the seconds dodged a bullet deep in their end, the Nor’Westers converted a penalty from short range.

The seconds shook off the Nor’Westers’ offensive burst as Fitch, Scott and Elliott re-energized the lads with sterling individual efforts while in attack mode but it wasn’t enough to produce points.

In the 70th minute a galloping Elliott left the Nor’Westers scrambling defensively before the eight-man handed the ball over to Scott. The scrum-half raced into contact around the five-metre line and after the ball squirted into the air a snafu by the Nor’Westers allowed Blake Mitchell to gobble it up behind a mass of bodies for the try. Fitch’s conversion was unsuccessful as the seconds led 21-15.

The Nor’Westers replied with a penalty kick from near the 40 and the seconds answered three minutes later with Robert Blunden’s try to cap off a tremendous forward push in front of the SARFC cheer section. Blunden shook off several tacklers en route to the try area with four minutes to play.

Fitch’s conversion attempt was off target. “Once the lactic acid started kicking in I missed a couple, which is unfortunate,” said Fitch.

He credits the team’s amped-up performance in the second half for the season-opening victory. It was also a statement game for the seconds after finishing fifth at 5-8-1 last year, compared to the Nor’Westers’ 13-0-1 mark. The Nor’Westers didn’t field a premier side last year so their seconds was the club’s first 15. This year they rejoined the premier ranks after a lengthy absence.

“After we had some few key words at halftime we actually came together and started to play a bit better with parts of our game plan and that helped put us on top,” said Fitch, 20.

This is the third SARFC season for the Bournemouth product, who elected to stay in St. Albert over the winter instead of playing for his home club in England.

Last year Fitch was named the SARFC second division MVP while doing double duty with the firsts and seconds. The reliable kicker with dependable hands and sneaky speed also ranked among the very best players on the firsts throughout the season but in the premier playoffs he was the odd-man out with the maximum match import quota of three per team.

“I’m happy getting a trophy but I’m a bit disappointed it wasn’t for the firsts. You can’t win them all but I’m happy to be part of the club, I’m happy to win stuff for the club and I’m happy to play for the club,” said the latest in a long list of players from overseas who come to St. Albert to play rugby and found love off the pitch.

The seconds scrum down May 24 against the Pirates at 12:30 p.m. at Alpine field.


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