Rock coach Pat Parfrey’s final note to his players as they prepared to take on Prairie Wolf Pack in today’s match to decide who will get to host the Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) league final was simple: “Play better.”
While The Rock is 2-0 after impressive 34-0 and 34-12 wins respectively over Ontario Blues and British Columbia Bears, Parfrey obviously sees room for improvement as he expects a tough match from the equally unbeaten visitors.
The Wolf Pack defeated B.C. 41-7 and beat Ontario 15-13.
The winner of today’s match, which begins 3 p.m. at the Swilers Rugby Complex, gets to play host to the national final Sept. 18 which will be broadcast live nationally on CBC TV.
The Calgary-based Wolf Pack boasts eight players from Calgary with the rest coming from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Rock, based in St. John’s, includes a nucleus of local players with additions from other Atlantic provinces.
Parfrey has tweaked the starting lineup for today’s big match.
Rich O’Malley has been The Rock’s starting scrum half and has played well, but Parfrey said recent pick up Morgan Williams will start today, “because he needs the game experience.
“Rich played the first half at scrum half (against B.C. Bears) and the second on the wing,” said Parfrey. “Morgan played the second half at scrum half and both played well.”
“The Rock has played well this year but there are several areas of our game that require improvement,” added co-coach Simon Blanks. “In particular, our restarts are abysmal and our lineout work is not at the standard we need.”
As far as the visitors are concerned, Parfrey isn’t underestimating the Wolf Pack.
“The centralization of players into four regional teams has meant that the depth of good players in each (CRC) team is better.”
The Rock beat the Wolf Pack 32-23 last year, but the Prairie reps are much better this time around..
“The Rock has played well this year but there are several areas of our game that require improvement." - Simon Blanks
Parfrey said the Prairies have strengthened their front five, especially at prop and second row compared to last year.
“This is certainly the best Prairies team ever,” he said, noting the visitors are well coached by Mike Shelley and have five Canadian international forwards, a strong back row, an experienced captain in international Ryan Smyth and powerful running backs in James Buchanan, Nick Blevins and Ian Shoults.
The Wolf Pack’s back row includes New Zealander Jeremy Kyne and the South African Nanyak Dala.
“I expect the battles at the scrum, the breakdown and in midfield will decide the game,” said Parfrey.
“I’m sure being at home will be an advantage in the final, so I expect the Wolf Pack will come out with all guns firing.”
Parfrey acknowledged The Rock is probably favored to win by local supporters, “but they are misguided if they don’t understand that we need an outstanding performance from our team and big support from the fans.”
Smyth, the Wolf Pack captain, told the CRC website: “That’s one thing The Rock are known for, their toughness.
“It’s how they play most sports, to be honest with you. That's what they bring to the table ... big, aggressive defence and now they've added an element of attack.”
Meanwhile, Rock fly half Dean Blanks leads the CRC scoring race with 27 points on five penalty kicks and six conversions.
Today’s game will be carried live at www.thetelegram.com.