UVic's Fergus Hall will suit up at no. 10 on Saturday
VICTORIA, BC - Round one of the storied Wightman 'Boot' competition is set for this Saturday and title holders UVic Vikes will be looking to deny the UBC Thunderbirds their first series win since 2008. The competition between western Canada's top university sides dates back to the 1967-68 season and has featured many of Canada's greatest players over the years.
University Rugby Wightman Boot Series - Sat. November 9th:
UBC U20 at UVic U20 (Wallace Field) 1:00pm
BOOT: UBC Thunderbirds at UVic Vikes (Wallace Field) 2:30pm
Saturday's clash is set for 2:30pm and will also have a curtain raiser between the program's under-20 sides at 1:00pm. The double-header will feature high speed rugby and will be an opportunity to see many of the junior national team reps in action for their school sides.
Known as "The Boot", the annual home-and-home series is named after the late Brian Wightman, an Englishman who coached at UBC from 1964-67. Famous for going on tour with one shirt, a pair of pants, one tie, one pair of underwear and a pair of socks, Wightman would wash his clothes every night and wear them again the next day. The trophy itself is Wightman's rugby boot, stolen and bronzed by his players.
The series has now been contested for over 40 years and is closely watched by passionate alumni bases at both schools.
Over the years the Boot competition has featured SFU and Stanford but the majority of matches were played between UVic and UBC. Overall, UVic boasts 39 wins to UBC's 17 while the series was split one year with a tie. The competition format switched to a double-round competition during the 1996-97 season.
In recent years the Vikes have held the upper hand in the series, having clinched 16 straight Boot titles. The 2012-13 season saw UVic take both matches with a convincing 52-28 victory in September, 2012 and then a series-clinching win with a 39-15 result at UBC in late March.
UBC's last win in the series came back in 2008 but the 10-5 score line saw them fall short in the home-and-home total point series as UVic had previously won 36-5 in the opening round.
The gap has steadily been closing between the two sides and after another two years of heavy recruiting by UBC's coaching staff, many in the Thunderbirds community are wondering if this could finally be the year that ends their trophy drought.
Predictions are tough to draw heading into Saturday with the two sides competing in different levels of club competition. The Vikes are tested week in and week out in the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League but have slipped to 2-2 after a narrow loss to league newcomers Vancouver Rowing Club on November 2nd.
UBC are 7-0 in the Tier Two Okanagan Spring Brewery League and have racked up 428 points in offence while allowing just 33 against. The students have lit up their opposition in recent weeks, most recently routing United Rugby Club 90-0.
Take away both team's national players on duty with the Canadian 15s and development 7s rosters and this weekend's clash could see a much slimmer margin of victory.
"I think it will be a pretty even game," said UVic coach Doug Tate. "UBC are doing very well in the league they're playing in. We don't have anything to measure their success with but we know they've got some good young players and historically for both our programs, this is one of the biggest competitions that we have."
Having coached many of the players on both sides through the BC U18 provincial team, UBC head coach Rameses Langston knows Saturday will be a tough contest on the road.
"I'm expecting them to throw the ball around," said Langston. "They like to move it wide and will take advantage of our mistakes. UVic are a fast, dynamic and technically sound team and are the top university team to beat in Canada."
The match will be an opportunity to measure UBC's progress, according to their head coach who is yet to see his players really tested this season.
"UVic can put points on you very quickly. They have talent from 1-15 and beyond that," Langston added. "Right now this game is just another step for us to see how we are building the program. It's going to be a great to contest and an opportunity to see how much depth we have."
UBC will be relying on their veteran core including a quartet that have all come through the Canada under-20 program. The list includes sevens flyer Sean Ferguson, Alex Kam, Alex Mascott and Charlie Thorpe. Hard-hitting centre Ben Grant - who came through UVic's rugby program during his undergrad - will also be suiting up for the Thunderbirds and will provide some veteran leadership. Jorden Sandover-Best will be missed at scrum half as he is on duty with Canada's sevens roster in the Caribbean.
UVic will be without the services of Nathan Yanagiya and Pat Kay who are also competing in the NACRA 7s, while their scrum half Jamie Mackenzie is on tour in Europe with the senior men's national 15s team. UVic have plenty of experience, however, with Canada U20 grads Dustin Dobravsky, James Pitblado and Liam Murray at their disposal. Along with Pitblado, UVic also have key players in BC U19 provincial reps Haydn Evans, Fergus Hall and MacBryan Bos. The Vikes also have a sturdy front row in Dan Hrycyk, Casey Reed and BC Bears rep Clayton Thornber.
Kick off for the first leg of the 2013-14 'Boot' game is set for 2:30pm at UVic's Wallace Field.
UVic Vikes Roster
1-Clayton Thornber, 2-Casey Reed, 3-Dan Hrycyk, 4-Shea Wakefield, 5-Haydn Evans, 6-Chase Kelliher, 7-Liam Murray, 8-Luke Campbell, 9-James Pitblado, 10-Fergus Hall, 11-Luke McCloskey, 12-Doug Fraser, 13-Dustin Dobravsky, 14-Willem du Plessis, 15-Kane Wyatt
16-MacBryan Bos, 17-Sawyer Herron, 18-Nathan Stewart, 19-Chase Kelliher, 20-Cuiseppe du Toit, 21-Robbie Anderson, 22-Crosby Stewart
UBC Roster to Follow...