The fantastic firsts are three wins away from a provincial repeat in premier men’s rugby.
The defending Labatt’s Cup champions kick off their historic quest Saturday against the Strathcona Druids at 4 p.m. at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.
Last weekend the SARFC first 15 (11-2-1) finished first overall in the Alberta Cup table for the second year in a row and fourth time in six years after whipping the Druids 72-5 in St. Albert.
“We’re excited going into the playoffs on a high note. We’ve just wrapped up the league title for the second straight year and we’re ready to defend our provincial title,” said inside-centre Justin (Bomber) Armitt, who gave the SARFC fans a thrill with two bullish tries against the last-place Druids (1-12-1).
The winner battles the Nor’Westers (7-6-1) or Clansmen (4-10) in the Ken Ann Cup north final next Saturday at 4 p.m. at Ellerslie Rugby Park.
The top playoff teams in the north and south scrum down in the Oct. 3 provincial final at Ellerslie.
Last year marked the sixth Ken Ann Cup championship in seven years and the Labatt’s Cup was the second in five years for the firsts.
“Our goal is to defend. We set that goal at the beginning of the year so if we come out and leave it all out on the field good things are going to happen,” Armitt said. “Anything can happen on the day but today is a good indictor of what we can do as a team.”
The firsts are a perfect 6-0 against north teams in the Alberta Cup after lighting up the Druids with a season-high 72 points on 12 tries and six conversions. It was 22-0 when the Druids crossed the try line in the 35th minute and the halftime tally was 27-5.
“All year we’ve been working towards playing a full 80 and work as a team and today we did it,” said Armitt of the seventh consecutive win by the firsts. “If you work hard anything is possible.”
Tries by Brad Angove at 1:41 and Chad Monai-Brophy at 6:34 set the tone for victory.
Monai-Brophy and Drew Grant, a pair of juniors, finished with two tries apiece. Robert Blunden, captain Orrin Farries, Jake Robinson, Trent Bennett and Adam Bontus were also credited with tries on the score sheet.
Monai-Brophy converted five tries and Luke (Aussie) Richardson kicked one conversion.
Armitt, 34, did his damage offensively at 38:53 before the break and at 7:46 in the second half. The high school product of the Bellerose Bulldogs left his mark on the pitch with a pair of straight-ahead power runs.
“On the first one, Aussie Luke was holding the defence and I just picked a hole and ran through a gap. The second one I think it was Jake who made a great little run and some dance moves and I just finished it off,” said last year’s co-recipient of the most improved player on the firsts with Bennett.
Thirds host GP
Saturday’s doubleheader at SARFC kicks off at 2 p.m., when the terrific thirds (9-3) ruck and maul the Grande Prairie Centaurs (8-4) in the Edmonton Rugby Union semifinals.
Playoff teams have to declare their rosters for each match so there will be no sharing of players between the thirds and firsts.
But to have two teams in the playoffs on the last home date of the year is a major triumph for SARFC.
“It’s really great for the club. Not only to have our women go as far as they did (as Alberta first division semifinalists) and the thirds taking a first round bye and us taking care of business, it bodes well for the club as we move forward into the future developing all these teams,” Armitt said. “We should all be proud of what we’re doing as a club. It’s not just one team that’s dominating. It’s all three teams that we’re fielding that are doing really well and as a club we all support each other and we all feel great to see every team doing so well.”
SARFC coach Simon Hill described the Centaurs as a physical outfit.
“They’ve got some big running wingers and a fullback. They’ve got Fijians and they play running rugby. They’re going to spread the ball wide on us so we’ve got to have our defensive structures well laid out,” Hill said.
The thirds are winners of five in a row after losing 33-3 to the Centaurs in July at Ellerslie but Saturday’s lineup will be different.
“We’ll likely have Ashley Hanson playing at ten (standoff) controlling the game for us. That was different than when we last played Grande Prairie. He’s a very experienced player. He should be the man to control it for us,” Hill said.
The winner will line up against the Pirates (10-2), last year’s ERU champions and Digby Dinnie Cup provincial finalists, or Parkland Sharks (8-4) in the Visser Cup north final next Saturday at noon at Ellerslie.
The ERU champion advances to the Oct. 3 provincials at Ellerslie.
SARFC hasn’t celebrated a third division championship since sweeping the Visser and Digby Dinnie Cups in 1997.