Juniors kick to win semifinal
St. Albert beat the Druids on penalty kicks in Wednesday's U19 playoff
Saturday, Aug 16, 2014 06:00 am
Penalty kicks lifted the St. Albert U19 juniors into the Edmonton Rugby Union final after Wednesday’s semifinal ended in a stalemate.
Five players from St. Albert and Strathcona Druids alternated kicking from point-blank range at the 22-metre line to determine the winner as St. Albert prevailed 2-1 following four quarters of 17-17 physically-taxing rugby.
“It was a battle until the end,” said co-captain and eight-man Austen McDonald as darkness descended upon the St. Albert Rugby Football Club fields. “To be honest I really wish it didn’t come to that. That was a really fair game and I wish we had played an extra 20 minutes but that’s the way it is.”
Chad Monai-Brophy split the upright as the first kicker and McDonald slotted the ball through the posts to make it 2-0.
After the Druids missed the mark with their second attempt, Keegan Edwards was poised to add to the lead but his boot rattled the top of the post.
The Druids were successful on their third kick and the next four players, including Tyler Lynch and Austin Halliday for St. Albert, were unable to connect. The last Druid tried a drop goal like some of his teammates (the St. Albert kickers used a tee) and the kick was low and short.
“We got the first two in and then we were counting down how many times they can miss them. As it got down to the very end it wasn’t fun waiting for it to end,” McDonald said.
St. Albert will now challenge the undefeated Clansmen for the Nor’Westers Cup. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Ellerslie Rugby Park. The winner advances to the provincial final next Saturday against the Calgary Rugby Union champion in Cow Town.
The last Nor’Westers Cup in St. Albert history was 2006 when the age division was U18. Last year St. Albert bowed out in the semifinals and two years ago was the finalist.
Last year the Clan White team swept the ERU and provincial playoffs.
The only Clan side in U19 this year is 5-0, including a 69-5 thrashing of a St. Albert side that played with only 13 for most of the match at Alpine field.
“We’re hoping for a different scenario,” McDonald said. “Definitely the Clan is very skilled as well as a physical team. They’ve been practicing all year. They have a nice academy set up there and they have a lot of nice rep players coming through their system but I think we’ll match them and give them a run for their money.”
The status of flanker Drew Grant and second row Brett Clow for the final was uncertain at press time. Grant hurt his shoulder in the third minute and Clow hobbled off the pitch with an injured knee in the eighth minute.
“We’re hoping all our guys are healed up otherwise we’ll lick our wounds and keep going,” McDonald said.
After losing two quality players early in the playoff tilt, St. Albert struggled maintaining ball possession and the Druids capitalized with a try under the posts in the 10th minute and two minutes into the second quarter scored off a scrum with a strong run into the try area to lead 12-0.
“Two good guys came off but two good guys come on,” McDonald said. “I told the boys we tough it out. We play as a team. We don’t play as individuals. We play with heart and we don’t give up until the very end and that’s what we did.”
St. Albert slowly rounded into fighting form as the second quarter drew to a close. As the extracurricular actives escalated — scrum-half and co-captain Jesse Shirton was splattered by a Druid twice his size, prompting McDonald to voice his displeasure in a face-to-face confrontation with the antagonist — St. Albert’s forwards started flexing their muscles while gradually pushing past the halfway line for extended period of times.
In the last eight minutes before the break, and the Druids a man short with a sin-bin infraction, St. Albert scored twice to trail by two at the break.
On the first try Nathan Yue was stopped short of the try line, the ball was funnelled back to Monai-Brophy and the 2013 recipient of the coveted Garth Jones Shield as the U17 ERU player of the year sailed a kick over the top of the defensive line into the open space in the try area for Edwards and Mathew Alexis to track down. They arrived at the ball at the same time as a Druid, but Edwards was able to gain control for the try. Monai-Brophy’s conversion was good.
On the last play of the first half, St. Albert’s forwards worked the Druids over while clearing a path to the try line. Yue, a kamikaze hooker, busted heads going into contact and a strong supporting cast allowed Shirton to put the finishing touches on the ball while closing the gap to 12-10. Monai-Brophy’s conversion was no good.
With Big Mo on its side to kick off the second half, St. Albert drove the Druids back their try line on the strength of two powerful bursts for extra yards by McDonald while covered by defenders. On the second romp McDonald bulldozed his way over the try area and Monai-Brophy’s conversion was good as St. Albert posted its first lead at 17-12.
“We started gelling and that was the key. We shifted some players around to accommodate the new guys coming on to the field so we had to be there the whole time for each other. That’s our motto for the year: be there for your teammates,” McDonald said.
At the end of the third quarter the Druids rattled off a long run to knot the score.
St. Albert ramped up the intensity in the fourth quarter but penalties killed a number of opportunities in scoring range. After surviving the early onslaught the Druids gained the upper hand in field position but were denied points by a determined defence.
“It’s definitely a morale kicker when you work all the way down with hard-fought forward ball and back ball and then to have it all slip away is demoralizing, but we did pick it up and we made sure they weren’t going to cross over that line against us,” McDonald said.
In league play St. Albert defeated the Druids 27-24 in Sherwood Park. St. Albert finished second at 3-1 and the Druids were third at 1-3.
“This team matches up against us physically and skill-wise. In this game we definitely gave it to them physically but skill-wise we lacked a bit. We had too many knock-ons and too many dropped balls. In the last game they were more physical but less skilled,” said McDonald, 18, a high school rugby product of the Paul Kane Blues and winner of the Garth Jones Shield in 2012.