Skyhawks crowned rugby champs

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First metro Edmonton title since 2006

The St. Albert Skyhawks took a major step towards reaching the high school provincial championship by capturing the metro Edmonton city conference rugby title Tuesday.

The 36-22 triumph over the Archbishop Jordan Scots propelled the Skyhawks into the playoff round to determine the Edmonton zone rep at the seventh annual Tier II (3A schools) provincial tournament.

“We’re not finished yet. We want to keep going. We’ve still got to make provincials,” flanker Mitch McNamara told the Gazette during the Skyhawks’ boisterous post-game celebration at the Nor’Westers Rugby Park.

Friday the Skyhawks (6-0) played the Beaumont Bandits in the metro Edmonton qualifier but the score was unavailable at press time.

Beaumont (4-1-1) was coming off a 47-7 loss to the undefeated Sturgeon Spirits in the premier conference final.

Last year Beaumont downed the Skyhawks 26-14 in the provincial qualifying round.

“We haven’t played them yet this year so we don’t know how good they are but I feel we can still take then,” McNamara said.

The metro playoff winner will scrum down against the Edmonton public league’s Edmonton Christian Lions on Monday at 4:45 p.m. at Lynn Davies Rugby Park. At stake is a provincial berth next weekend at Ellerslie Rugby Park.

At the inaugural 2006 provincials the Skyhawks soared to gold in Tier II after repeating as premier champions.

“We still have a long way to go until we’re done but we’ve been playing amazing this year so we’re hoping for the best,” said outside-centre Liam McNamara.

The first metro championship by the Skyhawks since 2006 was also the fourth in team history.

“We’ve worked hard for this for two months so it feels great,” Mitch said.

Last year the Skyhawks finished 1-5 overall as city finalists after going 1-6 in 2010. They didn’t field a team in 2009 because of a lack of players.

“Last year was a good building year and this year we’ve all come together as one,” Liam said. “For pretty much all of us, it’s our second year together. We’re all best friends so it feels great we won this together.”

The identical McNamara twins combined for five tries to share man of the match honours against the Scots (3-3). The 18-year-old Grade 12 Skyhawks – teammates on the midget AAA St. Albert Raiders this winter – switched positions without missing a beat after Mitch’s first try made it 24-5 to end the first half. His electrifying gallop past several Scots was the play of the game.

“It was a long run all the way around the side and it was very tiring,” Mitch said. “It was a good way to finish off the half.”

In the first quarter the Skyhawks survived a determined push for points by the Scots before Liam turned on the jets to open the scoring in the 10th minute and Devin Gunputrav kicked the convert.

Before quarter time the Scots crossed the try line to finish off an intense drive.

Evan Warmington, a battering ram at second row, bulldozed his way into the try area after a rambunctious dash into Scots’ territory put the Skyhawks up 12-5 seven minutes into the second quarter.

“He is an absolute beast on the pitch,” said head coach Angus MacDonald.

Warmington, a physical forward with the AJHL Spruce Grove Saints, set the stage for Liam’s second try with another powerful burst towards the try area. Liam finished off the six-phase sequence of unselfish rugby with a couple of shifty moves.

In the third quarter both teams exchanged tries. Warmington continued to wreak havoc at the point of contact and second-half sub Eric Labrecque gave the forwards a big boost at eight-man.

Mitch’s third try on a slick pass by Liam and Gunputrav’s third conversion increased the lead to 36-10 early in the fourth quarter.

“It was a hard battle but we came through. We had good runs and good hits. We all played great,” Liam said.

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.