The terrific thirds control their own destiny in pursuit of the St. Albert Rugby Football Club’s first Visser Cup in 18 years.
The front-runners in the men’s third division have two matches remaining to secure a semifinal berth in the Edmonton Rugby Union.
“We’ve got to win all of them,” said Jon Anderson, a core player on the surging 7-3 thirds. “We’re at the top of the league right now so it’s really pushing us forward to the playoffs. We’re really building on that to get into the highest level that we can.”
The third victory in a row and fifth in six matches, plus the ninth bonus point (BP) of the season (second-highest total in the 13-team table), was achieved Saturday against a skeleton squad of Lep/Tigers at SARFC.
The 62-5 walk in the park pushed the thirds one point ahead of the Pirates (7-2, eight BP), last year’s Visser Cup champions and provincial finalists for the Digby Dinnies Cup, and two ahead of the Grande Prairie Centaurs (7-4, seven BP).
Only seven points separates the eight highest-rank teams.
“It means a lot getting all those wins. It’s very, very close right now so getting those bonus points too is just all that much better,” Anderson said. “We’ve come through with some good wins the past few games as we build towards the final part of the season.”
The best of the bunch was the match before the LTs, 47-19 at the Nor’Westers (2-7, six BP).
“That was the one where it really started to all come together and we blew them out as well,” Anderson said. “We had some guys in and out of positions but because of that we were still very successful. We were actually seeing guys pick up the system and really putting it together.”
There was no shortage of players against the LTs with a whopping 35 of all ages and abilities, including several premier-calibre stalwarts, dressed for battle. There is unlimited substitutions and no roster limit in the third division, where matches are four quarters instead of two halfs.
“Because we had so many guys stepping in, we were using this game to build up our system and get our shape together for the games to come,” said Anderson, who was slotted at wing against the LTs but can also play scrumhalf. “It was just a perfect storm. There were guys coming back from injuries and guys coming out of retirement who wanted to get a game in.”
The LTs (1-8, two BP) were doomed from the opening kickoff with only 14 players, one short of a full 15 starting lineup. It was 14-0 when the LTs lost a player to injury in the fifth minute and that’s when the thirds lent the visitors forward Brett Kelly, who was slotted in the centres, and winger Josh Elliott to help create a competitive playing environment. Justin Benko also took a turn with the LTs late in the contest.
Kelly was arguably the LTs’ best player. He stuck a ton of tackles and nearly scored under the posts off a quick penalty play that eventually led to the only try by the LTs with three minutes left in the first quarter to trail by 16.
“It’s fun,” Anderson said of lining up against his teammates. “In a situation like that you go out there and play competitive. In practice we play competitively so you’re not going to let a guy go by you just because you know him.”
It took the thirds only 20 seconds to score the first of their 10 tries, as prop Angus (Gus) MacDonald sprinted into the try area on a set-up by Lino Filisione, a New Zealand import at scrumhalf.
Matt Herod and Trent Bennett also crossed the try line before the LTs put points on the board.
In the second quarter, MacDonald bulldozed his way over the try line off a penalty play to make it 26-5.
The point producers in the third quarter were Luke (Aussie) Richardson, the proud new father of Oliver Luke who was born Wednesday, and Martin (Joey) Redman, who scored the first try of his career with a determined run.
Tries by Robert Blunden, Ashley Hanson, Anderson and Byron Elliott rounded out the scoring. Hanson was also 6-for-8 kicking conversions.
The thirds are the feel good rugby story of the year. There was not a team last year and the 2013 side was 1-1-1 three months into the season before injuries and a lack of players forced SARFC to shut down the team. This year SARFC dropped its second division team to focus on rebuilding the thirds.
“It’s big for us. Guys are coming out. It’s a good vibe,” said Anderson, 26, a Sturgeon Composite High School alumnus. “It’s really good to be succeeding at this level because you can then build on that, get more guys back and hopefully next year we’ll put another team in seconds and succeed from there and keep building the club.”
The thirds scrum down Aug. 8 against the first-year Lloydminster Reapers (5-4, 11 BP) at 2 p.m. at SARFC.