VANCOUVER - At 29 years of age, Eric Wilson is still hungrier than ever to see his club back on top. Last season, for the first time in five years, the Kitsilano-based Meraloma Rugby Club missed out on advancing to the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League final. The team that knocked them out of the playoff hunt? None other than their biggest rival and this Saturday's opponent James Bay Athletic Association.
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The two heavyweights will collide at Connaught Park in a match that could easily set the tone for the season. James Bay were triumphant in both clashes last year, including a devastating 24-21 win on April 21st when they successfully ended Meraloma's hopes of qualifying for the postseason. The teams have a storied rivalry, one that saw them scrum down in back-to-back Rounsefell Cup finals in 2008 and 2009. Wilson kicked the game winning penalty in the '09 final, lifting the Meralomas to a 11-10 victory, denying the Bays of a record 23rd Rounsefell Cup title. The rivalry will be renewed this weekend as last year's Premier League runners-up James Bay open their season in search of their first provincial trophy since 2008.
"James Bay are always near or on top of the league table, so it's easy to get motivated for games against them," said Wilson. "They are a team with a strong lineup no matter who they put on the field. They have a strong club structure with plenty of depth and it's always a good test for us to see where we are at."
The Meralomas have already had their first hit out when they defeated a young UVic Vikes squad 27-5 last weekend. With new head coach Angel Cividanes at the helm and some fresh faces on the roster, it was a chance to shake off the rust and test our their new combinations. Back in the saddle as one of the province's elite scrum halves, Wilson recorded a try, two conversions and a penalty for a game-high 12 points. The 2009 BC Player of the Year was pleased with the win, but knows their is much to improve on.
"The biggest transition for us has been in the front row where we've lost four of our top props in the last two years, but we have some new guys coming through who are ready to play at the premier level," Wilson added. "We have a strong back row with Lee Nystrom back from injury this year, and Alex Boyd will be back in our lineup after playing in the CRC last weekend. With Josh Clarke and Lynyrd Hall in the back row and [lock] Brian Erichsen making an impact with some hard running, our attack off the scrum will definitely be a strength."
Missing from this year's lineup are provincial reps Bryan Tyrer and Brock Staller who are studying at UBC. A key addition to watch if he takes to the field on Saturday will be former James Bay standout Callum Morrison who has relocated to the Mainland and joined the Meralomas. Will Campbell also returns to bolster Meraloma's pack after graduating from the University of Victoria Vikes program.
"Last year we didn't start well before Christmas and even though we played better in every game after the break, we were knocked out and missed the playoffs," adds Wilson. "But we want to be back where we've been and we'll only be satisfied if we get back to the final."
Elsewhere in Premier League competition the reigning Rounsefell Cup champions Capilano RFC (1-0) are away to UVic (0-1). The Castaway Wanderers make their season debut against Burnaby Lake, and the UBCOB Ravens head down to White Rock to face off against the Bayside Sharks (0-1).
Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League - Sat. September 22nd:
Capilano RFC at UVic Vikes (Wallace Field) 2:45pm
Castaway Wanderers RFC at Burnaby Lake (Burnaby Lake Sports Complex) 2:45pm
James Bay AA at Meraloma Rugby Club (Connaught Park) 2:45pm
UBCOB Ravens at Bayside AA (South Surrey Athl. Park) 2:45pm