Vernon, BC – September 10, 2019: The Terrace Northmen reclaimed the Saratoga Cup this weekend, winning the 2019 tournament staged at Grahame Park, Vernon. Over two days, the top teams from the Okanagan, Interior and Kootenay Leagues fought for a place in the final and a chance to lay claim to the title.
The Saratoga Cup brings together some of the most geographically dispersed clubs in the BC Rugby community from Terrace in the north-west to Fernie in the south-east. Despite the challenges faced from travel logistics to weather, these clubs have a proud rugby history and competition in the Okanagan, Interior and Kootenay Leagues has been flourishing recently. With more and more kids in these communities picking up rugby through schools and local clubs, the future looks bright for rugby outside of the Lower Mainland and Island.
The first match saw hosts Vernon Jackals take on Elk Valley RFC from the Kootenays. With neither side having played in active competition since July, the opening exchanges saw a few cobwebs being blown away as each side looked to find their rhythm. A close-fought encounter, the first half saw both sides vying for control and the ability to dictate the play. Come the second half, Elk Valley were the first to break free and give themselves some breathing space. Despite Vernon throwing in some ferocious tackles and competing hard at the breakdown, it was the Kootenays side that started to build momentum, eventually closing with a comfortable 27-3 scoreline and progressing to the final.
In the second semi-final, favourites Terrace Northmen facing off against reigning champions Rocky Mountain Rogues in a highly anticipated match. Both sides brought plenty of physicality to the game, the Rouges knowing that they would have to throw everything they had at their opponents. Again, it was a too-and-fro affair, neither side able to fully dictate the pace of the game, the battle giving spectators on the sidelines plenty to cheer about. It was only in the closing stages of the game that Terrace began to stretch in front, despite valiant efforts from the Rogues. A last-minute try for the Northmen put the cap on a thoroughly exciting encounter, Terrace winning the match 34-19 and booking their spot in the final.
The bronze medal match saw hosts Vernon Jackals facing the Rocky Mountain Rogues. Both sides were understandably disapointed not to have made it to the final and were clearly out to finish the tournament on a high. The result was a neck and neck tussle, the lead switching back and forth several times over the course of the game. Either side could have walked away the victor, but eventually, it was the Rogues who found that extra burst in the dying minutes of the game. This final score would prove to be the difference between the two sides and secured third place for the Rocky Mountain Rogues with a 25-21 scoreline.
The final was contested by Terrace Northmen and Elk Valley RFC, two clubs separated by a gruelling 17hr drive across the province. With neither side being particularly familiar with each other’s tactics or strengths, this was a tantalising affair for both the teams on the field and the gathered crowds of supporters and the ensuing match did not disappoint. Within the first few minutes of the game, it was clear it was going to be a battle. The Northmen were hunting for the title that they last won in 2017 and Elk Valley had something to prove. Terrace struck first with an incredible run by Jared Stephens, but Elk Valley responded in kind, going up 7-5. The game went back and forth with both sides displaying great ability in both defence and attack.
Going into the final moments of the game Elk Valley was able to score a penalty kick, tying the game 15-15 forcing the match into overtime. Neither team was ready to back down. Terrace was able to score on a penalty kick taking the first points of overtime. However, within 2 minutes Elk Valley rebounded scoring a penalty kick of their own. Just as everyone was starting to think about what would happen if this overtime period finished tied, there was a turnover by Terrace who made a great run down the field. Defence by Elk Valley was tremendous but the support by Terrace and momentum was able to get them over the line for the final play of the game, Kevin Leask securing the try. As the final whistle blew, the scoreline stood at 23-18 to Terrace Northmen, securing the 2019 Saratoga Cup and the title of “Kings in the North”.
“Playing Saratoga is always an honour for the Northmen, this year was no different,” said Evan van Dyk, “the team was excited for our redemption game on Saturday against the Rocky Mountain Rogues and were thrilled to get that monkey off of our backs. The boys knew Sunday’s final against Elk Valley was going to be tough and we had to stick together and play for each other. Heading into overtime in a final had everyone on edge but we kept our spirits high and were rewarded by a huge play by Kevin. Big thanks to BC Rugby for putting together another very successful tournament.”
BC Rugby would like to thank Bryan Cragg and the Vernon Jackals for their excellent hosting and organisation of the 2019 tournament. Having accepted the torch passed by Penticton Harlequins, gracious hosts for many years, the Jackals and the city of Vernon did an excellent job in organising this year’s competition.
The Saratoga Cup marks the end of another season of rugby for the Okanagan, Interior and Kootenay Leagues, but they will return to action again in the Spring of 2020. If you are interested in getting involved with a rugby club in your area, check out the Find a Club page on the BC Rugby website.