Edmonton – The premier men’s rugby team washed away the bitter taste of losing to the Clan with a satisfying victory.
Saturday’s 31-15 decision against the Lep/Tigers also set the stage for the next two showdowns against the Nor’Westers in a 17-day span, starting 7 p.m. Thursday at the home of the Labatt’s Cup provincial champions.
“We see them as another top team in Edmonton at the moment and we want to try and knock them off that’s for sure,” said eight-man Jordan Roberts after the St. Albert Rugby Football Club improved to 4-2 in the Alberta Cup table.
The Nor’Westers are 4-1 in the 11-team premier ranks and last year strangled SARFC 57-26 and 51-3 en route to a 13-2 record as the first club other than SARFC or Calgary Hornets to win provincials since the Calgary Saints in 2008.
“We’ve got to work hard during the week at training to get ready for them,” said Roberts, the MVP for the 9-5 north semifinalists in the 2017 Alberta Cup playoffs.
The teams also clash Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. in the first of three SARFC home matches before the playoffs kick off Sept. 15.
The last time SARFC scrummed down on its sacred pitch was also the first loss against the Clan (3-4) since the 2013 season opener as the 30-23 disappointment ended a lengthy 11-game winning streak against the longtime rivals.
“We just played like crap that day, lots of missed opportunities and every time they got to our 22 (metre line) they scored a try basically,” Roberts said of the July 14 outcome. “We had all the possession.”
With the Nor’Westers looming large on the horizon, SARFC regrouped with an altered lineup to defeat the Lep/Tigers (3-2).
“It’s good to bounce back after we lost to the Clan. We got a couple of guys back for this game which helped,” Roberts said. “During the week of training we really concentrated on our forward play, put the ball in hand, that sort of thing and that also helped us.”
SARFC led 19-5 at halftime after the Lep/Tigers opened the scoring with a try in the seventh minute.
Four minutes later, Roberts was the finisher on a strong push-back by SARFC and Jordan Tait converted the try.
After a non-penalty try call by the referee when Duncan Maguire was spun around by a desperate defender past the 22 of the Lep/Tigers while tracking down a ball on a breakaway play, Jake Robinson was on the receiving end of a Chad Monai-Brophy pass and bolted across the try line in the 32nd minute.
The devilish Robinson was a man possessed offensively and defensively at scrum half as the game’s first star.
Tait split the uprights on the conversion and a few minutes after the kick the galloping fullback was uncatchable with Maguire as his running mate on the pass play to pad the lead to 14 points during a hard-fought first half.
The Lep/Tigers cranked up the intensity after the break but a staunch defensive effort limited the home team to an early try before Robert Blunden scored under the posts following a turnover by the Lep/Tigers that resulted in a sizable switch in field position with Roberts gobbling up the yardage past the halfway line.
Tait, a first-year SARFC player and the leading candidate for team’s MVP award , nailed the conversion and five minutes later weaved his way through a traffic jam of players while chasing a kick from SARFC territory and once he grabbed the ball was a blur dashing down the touchline for the riveting try.
Up by 21 points, SARFC used the wind to its advantage with lengthy kicks that veered towards the left touchline to kill time down the stretch.
The Lep/Tigers closed out the scoring with eight minutes remaining.
The must-win performance bodes well for SARFC with four matches remaining before the north semifinals.
“We’re building. We’re headed in the right direction, we just need to string our game together for more than five to 10 minutes at a time. When we play our game and we play with the speed that we want to, there is no team that can keep up with us and we hope, come the business end of the season we’ll be playing 60 to 80 minutes of excellent rugby,” said Roberts, 25.
As for areas of improvement, “Our rucking has been kind of dodgy this season I’d say so we need to do a lot of work to keep our own ball. Sometimes we struggle to keep our own ball when we take it into contact so we have to tidy it up,” said the New Zealander in his second season of Canadian rugby.
SCRUM BALLS: SARFC dropped to 1-7 in the Edmonton/ Calgary division two men’s interlock league in Saturday’s 29-5 loss to the host Lep/Tigers (4-3-1). It was 10-0 at halftime.
Down by 17 points eight minutes after the break, Jon Paradis busted across the try line with a short burst after Nick Dragich did some heavy lifting to get the ball in tight of the posts. Matt Herod’s conversion rattled the upright.
The next match is Aug. 11 against the Strathcona Druids (1-7) at 2 p.m. at SARFC.
The SARFC/Druids evened their third division men’s record at 2-2 in Saturday’s 41-17 result against the host Pirates (0-4) in the Edmonton Rugby Union.
Friday’s home match against the Lep/Tigers (4-1) kicks off at 7 p.m.