It wasn’t pretty, but a high-motor, tenacious effort by the VRC’s top side was enough to beat the Surrey Beavers on the road, 10-5, and earn the club a spot in the Division 1 finals this Saturday in Abbotsford.
Tight Game Early
An unconverted Surrey Beavers’ try was the only scoring in a first half in which neither offense could put together anything else that counted, either in phase play or in counter attack. The wet Sullivan Park pitch made for a stoppage-filled, in-fluid game, and that was bad news for the Rowing Club, who were having trouble in the set pieces all day. The 1sts stayed alive by virtue of tremendous effort and aggression on defense, and were able to go into half time down only 5-0.
Never Really In Hand
The trouble with set pieces continued into the second half, as the Rowers’ pack lost their own ball twice in the first 5 minutes, then failed to steal one from the hosts in their own end. As was the theme all day, the 1sts were able to D up and keep Surrey off the board. The pack made up for it in the 60th minute, after some punishing defense caused a Surrey knock-on in contact at the Beavers’ 40m line. Winning their own feed cleanly, the Rowers were able to get the ball to their backs with room to move. Winger Jack O’Sullivan attacked aggressively into space to draw two defenders before offloading to opposite winger and fastest-thing-in-boots Kevin Gurniak, who then used his natural gift for acceleration and a well-earned ability to read the field to carve a line through two layers of Surrey defenders and carry it home to get the Rowers on the board. A successful conversion by centre Brian Derham made it 7-5.
But it was a long way from over. Surrey attacked the Rowers hard, continued to win most set pieces, and took every yard available to them in an effort to re-take a lead late. Despite a relentless effort and more opportunities than they would have been afforded had the visitors been playing low-error rugby, the Rowing Club continued playing outstanding defense to keep themselves in it.
But Always In Reach
A scoresheet kept only on the second half counted a higher VRC tackle total than we’re used to seeing for entire 80 minute games (66 VRC tackles in the 2nd half). Club captain Michael Jordan (who has been called “the Micheal Jordan of rugby,”) accounted for five 2nd half tackles and one forced turnover. 2nd row forwards accounted for 15 combined tackles in the final 40′, including 7 from late game super-sub George Richmond, who was instrumental in fending off the Surrey attack.
Centreback Brian Derham had a characteristically excellent game on both sides of the ball, including a game-changing turnover in his own end, followed by a kick and chase that set up phase play that drew a penalty from a desperate Surrey defense and gave him the opportunity to kick one through and extend the lead to 10-5 in the 76th minute.
But Surrey wasn’t going anywhere. With no time left, in need of a try, they launched multiple phases at the Rowers’ goal line, forcing a taxed Rowers defense into a final confrontation for the game.
Because Rugby is about redemption
In what could be described as an atonement for a sloppy and error-prone game, the VRC defended their goal line with everything they had left. We noted big tackles in that final goal line stand by prop forward Morgan Smith, O’Sullivan and Derham, but keen roster management may have made the difference here. Flanker Quinn Cowie, on as a substitute around 60′ to turn out a dynamic 8 tackle performance, recorded several key stops in that final defense. Richmond accounted for at least two game saving tackles in the final minute on back to back phases about 40 yards apart along the gain line.
To the man, this team refused to quit. After finally causing Surrey to lose the ball in contact, the Rowers were able to kick it out on the bounce with the clock reading zero, and put themselves in the finals.
The win puts the Rowers in a Championship final this coming Saturday against the Bayside Sharks.
The Rowers were unable to beat The Sharks in their last meeting at Surrey Athletic Park April 14th, and came up just short when they hosted Bayside a month prior on St. Patrick’s Day.
Coach Cooper’s 1st Div are excited to be given a third crack at beating the strong White Rock club at Exhibition Park in Abbotsford this Saturday. Kickoff is at 1pm.
All photos by Abby Doucet