VANCOUVER - A year ago Capilano RFC were sent packing and relegated to Tier Two club rugby competition. The North Shore side wasted no time licking their wounds, however, and went 6-1 in the regular season and defeated Richmond RFC 50-3 in the Tier Two Okanagan Spring Brewery League provincial final. In an astounding turnaround, the club carried the momentum into the 2011-2012 Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League season and this Saturday will scrum down against perennial powerhouse James Bay Athletic Association for the coveted Rounsefell Cup.
"It has been a massive effort from the entire club from President to the executive, to coach to assistants and right down to the players," said Tom Larisch, Capilano's head coach who navigated the club through last year's Tier Two campaign and led the program to a Fall 2011 Lower Mainland championship. "While we are definitely a better team than last year, I think we were not as far off as some people thought. Our juniors are stepping up into the squad, veterans have returned, graduates from university have returned, new players have been found and players have developed from the last couple of seasons."
Capilano went 10-4 during the 2012 regular season and handed James Bay (13-1) their only loss on February 4th when they held the Islanders try-less in a 23-6 drubbing. Capilano finished the season ranked third in offence with 28 points per game (ppg) and fourth in defence allowing 18 ppg. A key member of the squad was scrum half and former Canada U20 national team standout Matt Yanagiya who notched 119 points and ranked second in overall scoring. This past weekend, missing Yanagiya from their ranks, Capilano went over to Oak Bay and upset the reigning Rounsefell Cup champions Castaway Wanderers 34-22 at Windsor Park. Capilano advanced to the championship final where they will look to lift their first Rounsefell Cup championship since securing back-to-back titles in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
Standing in the way of Capilano's rise to the top is James Bay Athletic Association, a club aiming for their record 23rd Rounsefell Cup championship. The Bays are a balanced mix of national team capped veterans and are a side brimming with young talent knocking on the doors of national team selectors.
"James Bay are an outstanding team. They have a great balance of game breakers and workers which make them a very dangerous yet consistent squad," said Larisch of this weeks' opponent. "They are always well drilled and prepared and it will take a massive effort from us to win the game. It is no surprise they went 13-1 this season."
The Bays ranked fourth in offensive output this season with 27.4 ppg but their staunch defending topped the league, allowing just 14.21 ppg. Connor Braid, a player already capped for Canada in both XVs and Sevens, ranked third in league scoring with 88 points despite missing several games due to national team commitments. Braid hit a crucial penalty this past weekend to lift the Bays to a 23-21 semifinal win over Burnaby Lake Rugby Club.
"We have had several close games and are fortunate to enjoy the record we have," said James Bay head coach Peter Rushton. "Our successes are attributable to two major factors. One is the depth in the club. Although we can't boast the numbers that some of the clubs enjoy, the numbers that we do have are very serious about striving for excellence. This leads into the second factor, which is now and always has been a part of the JBAA culture; from September through to May every game is important."
Rushton also paid tribute to Victoria native Braid and Newfoundland product Zac Coughlan, two young players making an impact in the back yard of Canadian national team selectors.
"Connor has developed into a real 'take charge' player and as our number 10 he has the ability to punish the opposition in a variety of ways," Rushton added. "Zac is a big strong and effective back row player. Mature beyond his years, Zac has the ability to be a dominant player both domestically and internationally for years to come."
From the other end of the spectrum James Bay have Morgan Williams, a former professional rugby player in Europe and Captain of Canada at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
"Morgan brings a toughness and competitive edge along with a skill package that is extremely important to our group," Rushton said before adding, "Both teams have tons of talent at their disposal. Caps can punish a team in a variety of ways and I am sure they will test us from every angle."
Kick off at Klahanie Park is scheduled for 4:00pm on Saturday.
About the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League
The Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League is the top men's club rugby competition in British Columbia. The bulk of Canada's domestically based national team players currently compete in the Premier League each Saturday from January through the beginning of May. Of the 30-man Canadian senior men's national team to compete at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, no fewer than 27 players were recent grads or participants in BC Rugby club competitions and the Premier League.
The 2011-2012 club rugby season in British Columbia will wrap up this Saturday, May 12th at Klahanie Park in West Vancouver. All four provincial finals will be at Klahanie and general admission will be $15 for adults and $10 for youth (under-15).
Women's Adidas Premiership
Harris Memorial Cup Final - Provincial Championship
11:00 AM Burnaby Lake Rugby Club vs Velox Valkyries
Province Wide Third Division
12:30 PM Velox Valhallians vs Kamloops Rugby Club
Ceili's Cup League (Tier 1 First Division)
Ceili's Cup Final - Provincial Championship
2:00 PM Meraloma Rugby Club vs Castaway Wanderers RFC
Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League
Rounsefell Cup Final - Provincial Championship
4:00PM Capilano RFC vs James Bay AA