Vancouver, BC – August 23, 2018: From the perch above the fields at Calgary’s Rugby Park, the smoke was very evident. Wildfires in BC’s interior almost stopped this game. The decision to play on was made when the air quality was found to be at a tolerable 9, outdoor activities are not recommended when it reaches 10.
This rematch of last year’s final was very tight at the start. Ontario was surely looking to make a statement after losing to BC last year by one point. The Blues pack was pounding up the middle of the field but BC contained them well. The Canadian national team’s current captain, and Ontario number 8, Lucas Rumball, smashed towards BC’s 5-metre line which led to their scrum-half going over for the game’s first try.
After the restart, BC saw success spreading the ball wide and Doug Fraser made a significant gain, driving his legs in the tackle. After being awarded a penalty, BC took a quick start and Canada Sevens player, Isaac Kay, scored BC’s first try. Giuseppe du Toit’s conversion was no good.
A strong showing of national team talent was evident in both these teams. A national stalwart at prop, DJustice Sears Duru, was playing with some fire in his eyes in this game, making significant gains up the middle. Ontario was played a lot of advantage in the first half and it looked like things would go their way earlier than they did. A few Ontarian mistakes and lucky breaks by BC kept the scoreline even at five for the first ten minutes. However, after BC took a penalty too close to their line, Ontario’s fly-half tallied three points for the lead.
Off of a lineout, the completely Castaway and James Bay pack drove the ball and hooker Steven Ng was able to fall on it to put BC ahead, 10-8. Off the next restart, BC looked good. Dustin Dobravsky had a big hit up; the ball movement was nice and crisp. Luke Campbell got sat down by an Ontario player near the half and the ball was turned over. Ontario drives it into BC’s end and scores to put them ahead,
Talented front rows from both teams facing off: Duru, Liam Murray, and Noah Barker all fighting for spots on the national team. The next BC possession led to a nice phase where Steven Ng was able to work a two-on-two with Isaac Kaay, setting him free down the line. Luckily, Kaay had the finishing power to push over the try line – stepping inside the tackler with the ball in one arm and scoring. Guiseppe du Toit did not have a good first half with the boot, missing this one and leaving the score tied at 15.
After the next restart, BC was caught off guard and within a couple phases, Ontario’s talented winger, Kainoa Lloyd, used his extra gear to separate himself from BC’s players, passing it in the last second for a try. This burst BC’s bubble a bit and led to a cascade of tries that would prove to be the ultimate difference in this game. As the game edged closer to halftime, BC looked to contain Ontario and take a one-try deficit into the break, however, the defence in the backline let BC down once again, as Lloyd sprung through for another try. The score going into halftime now was 27-15 for Ontario.
The top of the second half saw Ontario’s pack look to contain and control the ball. They used hit-ups and small drives around rucks to protect their possession. Soon, they were camped out on BC’s five-metre line. A BC defensive mistake led to Ontario’s Rumball seeing a ten-foot-wide gap beside the ruck and running untouched into the BC try zone, he also had time to put it under the posts. This was the story of this game – too many defensive errors to hang with a talented team. The kick was good, and the score now was 34-15. Now the game was beginning to look out of reach for BC. At this point, it was 24 unanswered points for Ontario.
BC’s coaching staff decided to put on fresh legs to kick-start the squad. Aaaron McLelland came on at wing as well as Abbotsford’s Jorden Sandover-Best and UVIC’s Ollie Nott. The addition of the subs was felt in two tries yet to come, but first, Ontario scored again! Unfortunately for BC, they left the blindside of a ruck completely unmanned once again, and this time, Ontario’s winger picked it and ran from the around the 22 to score. The score now was 41-15. After the next restart, BC showed some life and Mike Nieuwenhuysen made a big line break but awkwardly offloaded it. This slowed progression down, but BC was now by Ontario’s 22. James Pitblado had a full backline calling for the ball but decided to take it himself and was almost stripped of the ball. Luckily, the referee played advantage to BC. The ball was spun wide and Doug Fraser moved it to Aaron McLelland who straightened up nicely, drew the defender and sent fullback Sean Ferguson over the line. Du Toit made a nice conversion from near the sideline and the score now was 51-29.
Right after the next restart, Jorden Sandover-Best made a dashing run up the middle before handing it off to UVIC’s Ollie Nott who finished the job. Du Toit’s conversion was good and now the score was 51-36. Gareth Rees took to the mic and the word “comeback” was heard over the, so far, steady live-stream. BC’s side was showing some real fire now, driving the ball into tackles with pace and keeping their legs going well into exchanges. An ill-advised offload led to a knock-on which all but deflated BC’s comeback attempt. Ontario would add another try to leave the final score at 58-36.
BC’s coach, Scott Manning, cited defensive problems for the lopsided result, “Obviously, a tough result. It’s not what we came here to do, to play for a bronze medal on Sunday. Essentially, at the end of the day, we weren’t good enough in a lot of areas of the game, the Blues outplayed us in a lot of different aspects. Not to say we didn’t do some good things. When we strung some phases together and had the ball we were very threatening and were still able to score a lot of points. We were probably able to score enough points to win the game but we weren’t good enough defensively to come out with the ‘W’ today”.
The captain, Luke Campbell, added, “Going into the game we were very excited. After winning last year we were hoping to put BC back as the top province. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I think disappointed is the best word to describe the feeling of the team right now. We couldn’t string our phases together, we let ourselves down, and now we’re playing for third instead of first”.
The Bears will play in the bronze medal match against the Prairie Wolfpack on Sunday at 11am Pacific time. The match will be streamed live on Rugby Canada’s Facebook page.