Rowers claim second league title in as many years—
By Braden Maccke
Photos: Malin Jordan
|Phil Hosie crosses the line for the Rowers, stretching their score to 31 and ultimately
sealing the championship victory.
|Coach Sabell chats with his players before the game May 11.|
The Vancouver Rowing Club battled back in the second half to overcome the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club 31-27 in a come-from-behind victory to claim their second Okanagan Spring Brewery League One championship in as many years.
This reporter had occasion to speak with VRC first division 8th man George Richmond before the provincial final. “Good” Richmond replied to a question about how he was feeling. He ignored further attempts at conversation. The usually encouraging and detail-oriented back-row forward said very little through warm-up. He took seemingly bottomless determination and focus into what would end up being one of the best games of provincial rugby in recent memory.
|Karl Mudzamba almost notches an early try.|
As the game opened, the Rowers dominated the ARFC early, pinning the Fraser Valley squad deep in their end for the first 20 minutes of the match. When Abbotsford did gain possession, the Rowers were able to pressure them into kicking and forced turnover ball in the rucks.
Flanker Joshua Schreiber forced a lot of those turnovers while Justin “WoJay” Wong had a couple of early strips to contribute to Abbey’s early problems. Wong also stabbed a laser-beam kick from Abbey’s fullback at the 22-metre line – only to gallop back 10 metres to the Abbey 12. The Rowers persistence after the Wong run-back paid off as Duncan James finally crossed the line to put the Rowers ahead 7-0.
|Justin Wong strips the ball from Abbey’s 19.|
|Wong runs the ball back after stabbing a laser-beam kick
off an errant Abbey clearing attempt.
|Schreiber and company wrap up an Abbey player behind the gain-line.|
|Kevin Gurniak breaks for space early in the first half.|
|Henry Recinos leaps to make a tackle.|
|Recinos jumps to block a kick.|
Schreiber was an early difference-maker as the young lad skulked along his defensive line, patrolling the field like a dreadought in the North Sea. Whenever opportunities arose, the flanker unleashed the brunt of his offensive artillery on the tourists, shredding any Abbotsford player who dared to slip the lines with the rugger ball. Schreiber out-hustled early and dispatched large-calibre tackles at will. He singlehandedly transformed the early quarter of the game into the Rowers’ favour by helping to repel any advance by the Abbotsford crew.
For the final 15 of the first half, Abbotsford bounced back to control the majority of the play. The Rowers looked a little flat, but they only suffered because the key tackles they were making behind the Abbey gain-line in the first part of the match were being missed in the second part.
Abbotsford used this to their advantage, breaking for long jaunts behind the Rowers’ lines.
Finally, one of their backliners, wearing the auspicious number 19 jersey, catapulted himself through a tackle and broke for space, touching the ball down near the posts to tie the game 7-7.
Shortly thereafter, Duncan James was dump tackled and one of Abbey’s centres was sent off with a yellow card. Despite their numerical superiority, the Rowers only managed to slot one three, an effort from the boot of Henry Recinos which he bounced in off the crossbar.
It looked as though the Rowers would take a 10 -7 lead into the half, but Abbotsford fought hard after their man returned from the sin bin. Their outside centre crossed the line for an unconverted try just before the half-time bell, taking a 12-10 lead into the break.
Both teams battled back and forth to open the second half, in what proved to be a frenetic fight for turf.
|Coach Sabell rallies his troops
Recinos had an early shot to regain the lead for the Rowing Club, but missed a penalty attempt from about 40 metres. The miss proved to be a six-point swing as Abbotsford rolled down the pitch and slotted a three of their own to stretch their lead to 15-10 early in the second frame.
On the ensuing kick off, Scyler Dumas broke through a tackle and offloaded to a streaking Karl Mudzamba. Mudzamba broke two tackles at the Abbotsford 26-metre mark and then darted for another 20 metres until Abbey’s full-back snared Mudzamba by the Adam’s apple – in what should’ve been a textbook penalty try. The effort slowed Mudzamba just enough to allow Abbotsford’s number thirteen to catch up and bring him down at the two.
|Scyler Dumas turns to offload to Mudzamba.|
|Mudzamba is tackled by his laryngeal prominence.|
The Rowers were awarded a penalty on the 5. Although they ran hard, they were ultimately out-rucked and Abbey turned the ball over. But the Rowers didn’t let up and resident giant Sean Dignan was rewarded when he blocked Abbey’s clearing kick, which he jumped on for a try. With a Recinos convert, the Rowers regained the lead 17-15.
But Abbotsford stormed right back. The Rowers’ defense and rucking were as good as they had been all year as the team seemed to retain the ball and stop attackers with sheer will. Richmond and Mudzamba both contributed multiple punishing hits, as they fought off obvious fatigue. Flanker Michael Jordan also made some key tackles that killed Abbotsford’s incessant momentum surges.
Then Caleb Hansen intercepted an errant pass just outside his own 22-meter line and out-paced two defenders 77 metres to smudge the green under the posts. Recinos convert. 24-15 Rowers.
|Caleb Hansen breaks for a 77-metre intercept try in this, and
the following two panels.
As the midway mark of the second half approached, Schreiber earned a yellow card for a professional foul at the breakdown and was sent off with 21 minutes left in the game. Abbey used the foul to their advantage and scored immediately after the penalty, narrowing the gap to 24-22. But despite some penetrating runs, the Rowers defence rose to the challenge and kept Abbey off the scorecard for the remainder of Schreiber’s rest.
With about 10 minutes to go, Abbey was pressing again before Hansen snagged one of their back-line passes and cleared the ball downfield with his boot. Abbey retreated and regrouped, then attacked immediately, piercing once again deep into Rower territory. As they wildly pressed, still advancing deeper, building on phase after phase, it seemed inevitable the Fraser Valley tourists would take the lead. But Hansen – again – used his prey-like talons to claw another pass from the sky, killing a multi-phase effort as he cleared the ball down field yet again. The successive plays added up to a veritable turning point in the match, snatching late momentum from an aggressor that had been camped out in enemy terrain.
|Jon Mergui and George Richmond leap to block a kick in the 2nd half.|
The VRC then built on Hansen’s boost to gain their own momentum, bringing the play deep near the opposite goal line. The Rowers applied a lot of pressure to the Abbey lines as Jonathan Mergui, Justin Humphreys, and Ryan Chapman saved VRC possession a multiplicity of times with some savage rucking, beating back counterruck after counterruck from a desperate Abbey side. And the triumvirate’s efforts paid off as Phil Hosie snuck across the line for another Rower five. With the Recinos convert, they stretched their lead to 31-22 with eight minutes to go.
Down by nine, Abbey fought back with some frantic rugby, pinning the VRC deep, yet again, and forcing them to play goal-line defense for five minutes. Unable to hold the line, Abbey finally punched through for an unconverted try, closing the gap to 31-27.
With three minutes left the Rowers kicked off deep, but Abbey thundered back down the pitch and the Rowers were forced to make game-saving tackle after game-saving tackle.
|Richmond makes the final tackle of the game.|
|The moment of victory.|
In the dying seconds of the match, James and Richmond combined for two game-savers of the game-savers. James stood up Abbey’s try-scoring number 19 as he broke for the line just outside the Rowers’ 22. And then Richmond toppled Abbey’s fullback as he tried to step through a gap inside the 22.
Schreiber then snatched the ball in the ruck and superlative sub Nolan Laderoute kicked the ball out of bounds to the music of the final whistle.
During the post-game celebration, standout flanker Jordan asked coach Jeremy Sabell to say a few words. But the coach was speechless for quite possibly the first time in his life. The lads then carried Sabell off the field and into the annals of Rowing Club rugby’s 100-plus-year history.
With the victory, the Rowers were offered promotion to the premiership for the 2013-2014 season. The club accepted the offer and will compete with the province’s best this fall.
Tries: James, Dignan, Hansen, Hosie.
Converts: Recinos, 4
Penalty Goals: Recinos, 1
See here for more championship photos.
–With files from Ruck Muck staff.
|Wong tosses Richmond an alley-oop.|
|Mudzamba blocks a clearing kick. td>|
|Hosie attacks the Abbey line moments before his try.|
|Sean Dignan blocks a clearing kick.|
|Dignan dives on his blocked kick to earn the VRC five points.|
|Dumas with one of his many crucial tackles late in the match.|