The fantastic firsts have the Nor’Westers squarely in their sights with two matches remaining before pulling the trigger.
The St. Albert Rugby Football Club’s premier men complete the Alberta Cup fixtures Sept. 9 against the Irish (1-9) in Calgary before hosting the Strathcona Druids in the north semifinal Sept. 16.
The winner advances to the north final against the Nor’Westers (11-1) Sept. 23 and the Ken Ann Cup champion scrums down against the Calgary Rugby Union rep Sept. 30 in the Labatt’s Cup provincial final.
“Our train of thought is that we’re chasing the Nor’Westers,” said eight-man Orrin Farries after the firsts (8-4) tore apart the Druids 60-10 Saturday at SARFC. “We know that they’re the best team in Edmonton right now and where we’ve been executing isn’t at the standard of excellence that has led us to three championships and if we want to have that fourth on the horizon the effort needs to be up, commitment needs to be up and guys need to get their heads in gear so come that Saturday we’re not just there to have a run around, we’re there to win.”
The Labatt’s Cup champions the last three years are still smarting over the devastating 57-26 and 51-3 losses to the Nor’Westers during a 14-day span in June.
“I don’t think anybody has forgotten the two whippings that we took at the hands of the Nor’Westers and it’s foolish of us to think about that fourth championship knowing full well that before getting there we still have to get through them. We haven’t sorted them out and figured them out this year,” Farries said. “At the end of the day we’re going to have to square up for 80 minutes with them and they’re a damn good team.”
After a disappointing 25-17 performance against the Druids the previous weekend at Lynn Davies Rugby Park that ended a run of five consecutive victories the firsts vented their frustrations in the rematch against the Sherwood Park team with a revamped first 15 lineup.
The best play by the Druids in their win was knock-ons by the firsts.
“We came out with a lot more energy this week. Last week we started completely flat and that started straight from the warm-up,” Farries said. “Training has been getting a bit better. We’re still not at that St. Albert standard of excellence but today was one of those ones where we knew we couldn’t drop two against the Druids. We don’t particularly like those guys, we don’t hate them either, but we know that we can’t lose at our church, not on the second last game of season and not in front of our fans so we came out with a bit of go get it and we got it.”
The first of 10 tries against the Druids was scored by winger Matt Jarvis in the third minute after some shifty running by Jake Robinson put the firsts within reach of the try area.
Nine minutes later, Farries finished off a series of slick passes by Robert Blunden and import George Harding, who had his teeth rattled by a Druid while distributing the ball to Blunden who was exceptional once against at the hooker position as the team’s leading candidate for MVP honours.
A short and powerful burst of speed by Angus (Gus) MacDonald for a corner try in the 17th minute, followed by the third conversion in a row by Harding, pretty much sealed the deal with the firsts in command by 21 points.
It was 26-0 when the Druids split the uprights on a penalty.
The first half ended with Chad Monai-Brophy’s try after a lengthy penetration by Nathan Yule into enemy territory to make it 31-3.
Monai-Brophy, a fullback, was another standout among many on the firsts in the blowout.
The firsts cranked it up after the break with two tries in the opening three minutes and the second was produced by Robinson after Farries zipped past several Druids on the setup.
The firsts continued to pile up the tries faster than the electronic scoreboard operator, one of the Old Boys on the top deck, could keep up (Full disclosure: the ref said the final result was 60-10 but the scoreboard read 54-10 and the Gazette had it 55-10).
The firsts were a man short when the Druids discovered the try area in the 64th minute after Duncan Maguire, who broke one of the very few laws in rugby, did the slow walk of shame down field to the sin-bin while embracing the love from the SARFC supporters from the sun-drenched balcony.
“We had a lot of energy today from the younger guys like Nathan Yue. Ben Manchester had a pretty good run out there (the 18-year-old was a replacement for Harding at standoff when it was 48-3 and kicked one conversion). Ben Miller (17-year-old started at forward) is also showing some maturity on the pitch,” Farries said. “But a guy who needs to be getting more run time in my opinion, and he’s already at that level, is (U21 forward) Josh Freeman. He’s got the heart and the smarts for rugby, he just needs to have the confidence inside.
“Not only did the young guys step up but the imports stepped up too. Everyone bought in and having that leadership of Jake Robinson and Duncan Maguire is absolutely huge and even from Matt Jarvis too. We’re getting a lot more leadership from those guys vocally whereas previously they’ve been more as standouts just in their performances and now I think they know the team needs their vocalization and communication and it’s that leadership and confidence that we need to get going and go capture that fourth Labatt’s Cup.”