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Firsts slap pesky Hornets

First win by St. Albert after eight losses to the Calgary Hornets in premier men's rugby

By: Jeff Hansen

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 06:00 am

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  • BUSTING A MOVE - Matt Herod of St. Albert weaves his way towards a try in the first half of Saturday's 15-13 loss to the Pirates in the Edmonton Rugby Union second division match at Alpine field. St. Albert led 13-5 at halftime.
    BUSTING A MOVE - Matt Herod of St. Albert weaves his way towards a try in the first half of Saturday's 15-13 loss to the Pirates in the Edmonton Rugby Union second division match at Alpine field. St. Albert led 13-5 at halftime.
    BEN LEMPHERS/St. Albert Gazette
  • PRESSURED - Mitch Millett of St. Albert is chased by the Pirates in Saturday's second division match at Alpine field. Millett opened the scoring in the 15-13 loss.
    PRESSURED - Mitch Millett of St. Albert is chased by the Pirates in Saturday's second division match at Alpine field. Millett opened the scoring in the 15-13 loss.

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After eight straight frustrating losses to the Hornets, pride was on the line for St. Albert’s fantastic firsts when the powerhouses of Alberta Cup rugby collided Saturday in Calgary.

When the dust settled, the premier men’s team celebrated its greatest victory since the 2010 Labatt’s Cup provincial championship.

“It was a massive team performance,” said head coach Jo Hull of the 24-23 come-from-behind thriller over the winners of three provincial titles in a row and four in the last five years. “It was a massive landmark for us.”

In five trips to the final in six years, the first 15 suffered heartbreaking losses to the Hornets in 2009 (24-22 upset of the undefeated firsts), 2011 (31-13 to snap an 11-game winning streak) and last year’s disappointing 47-10 effort.

“Mentally it was a huge, huge win for us. It was the bridge we had to get over mentally,” Hull said.

At halftime the firsts were down but not out, trailing 20-11.

“The guys showed massive character to turn that game around from what it was to winning the game,” Hull said. “Ultimately our boys believed they could do it. There is a real sense of belief in the team this year and that is massive. The boys basically went out there and believed they could turn the game around and they did.”

In the first half the firsts were plagued by penalties and they gifted the Hornets two tries from poor defence.

“We gave away some ridiculous penalties and we were sloppy for sure. I think two of their tries came from us turning the ball over,” Hull said. “In the second half we changed a few things tactically and I think that got us the win. We tried to focus on winning our own ball and just better execution basically. What we did was keep the ball in hand.”

The big scoring play by the firsts in the opening half started with Shea O’Hallahan’s break through the middle of the Hornets’ defence before passing the ball off to Antony Fitch. Johnny Moloney then reeled in Fitch’s over-the-shoulder pass but last year’s team MVP was held up in the try area. The firsts would eventually score off a five-metre scrum with Kyle Gilmour inflicting pain on the Hornets at the try line.

About 12 minutes into the second half Moloney was yellow carded for a high tackle and, despite being a man short on the sin-bin infraction, the firsts kicked a penalty to pull within six.

When Moloney returned to the pitch, Gilmour stole a lineout ball around the Hornets’ 22-metre line and the firsts mauled their way into the try area with Moloney touching the ball down. The try was converted as the firsts took the lead for the first time at 21-20.

The paced of the match intensified after the try and with under four minutes remaining the Hornets slotted a penalty from in front of the posts to regain the lead at 23-21.

The next minute the Hornets were penalized after a Brett Kelly tackle and the kick was good to put the firsts back on top by one.

With about a minute to go, the firsts were penalized after a Hornets’ lineout ball around the 22 but their kicker pushed the ball left from a bad angle to end the match.

“The one thing I wasn’t happy with was our discipline. It started to show on both sides actually because it was such a high-tempo game and I think both sides started to break down a little bit,” Hull said.

Gilmour, who is at the national team camp this week with Duncan Maguire of the Team Canada sevens (Maguire subbed on in the second half against the Hornets), Paul Flynn in the forwards, Adam Higgins in the centres and O’Hallahan in the backs were among a very long list of standouts in the win.

“Someone from the opposition said, ‘Your boys really look like a team.’ That’s what people are seeing. We’ve upped our game and our own expectations,” Hull said. “The win shows our intention for this year and what our focus is. It’s something that we'll build on. We’ve set the benchmark now.”

Saturday the firsts (2-0) battle the scrappy Lep/Tigers at 2 p.m. at Ellerslie Rugby Park.

Second 15 men

St. Albert’s second division men scored all their points in the first half in Saturday’s hard-fought 15-13 loss to the Pirates at Alpine field.

Tries by Mitch Millett in the 10th minute (set up by Aaron Millard’s run into contact off a penalty play) and Matt Herod in the 30th minute (off a lineout ball by Christian Otto in front of the 22) and Neil Coghlan’s penalty kick in the 17th minute from outside the 22 (after a Byron Elliott run past the halfway line) did the honours against the top men’s team at the Pirates Rugby Club.

It was 13-5 at the break and in the second half the Pirates scored a converted try in the 45th minute and five minutes later took the lead on a long penalty kick.

“It was a very good defensive game. I think we were tired playing so much defence that our offence suffered a little bit,” said Millett, an outside-centre who shone in the loss. “We played well as a team in spots, really well actually. It was impressive to see, especially defensively.”

The bruising affair saw two Pirates whisked away by separate ambulances at halftime. There was also a brief melee in the second half when Millett was punched in the face.

“It was definitely rough. The energy was there,” said Millett, 24.

The former Bellerose Bulldogs’ football standout was among several players on the second 15 who battled through injuries in the loss.

“It was good to see the guys coming out and playing through pain. Everyone was doing that today,” said the Sturgeon Composite High school alumnus.

Saturday in the Edmonton Rugby Union the seconds (1-1) tackle the Leduc Crude at 12:30 p.m. at Ellerslie.


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