Prairie Wolf Pack head coach Mike Shelley backpedalled a little Thursday from his controversial remarks a few weeks ago about The Rock rugby team.
Shelley was quoted in the Calgary Herald as saying his players were better than those on The Rock and deserved to win a Sept. 4 match between the teams at the Swilers Complex in St. John’s— won by The Rock 27-23 on the last play of the contest which decided the host team for Saturday afternoon’s Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) final at Swilers Complex.
Asked Thursday about the areas in which he feel his team is superior to The Rock, Shelley hesitated before saying, “Ah, um, we’ll see on Saturday,” but later explained his Sept. 4 comments.
“I said that emotionally right after the game. I honestly have full respect for how The Rock play as a team and how they put a game together,” he said.
“I think it will be a close game (Saturday) and we’ll see who the best team is on the day.”
The Leeds native is actually a likable sort of fellow who has had a major impact on Prairie rugby since coming to Canada from England five years ago.
Shelley, who has the distinction of being the longest-serving player in the history of the Leeds Tykes rugby union club, played for the England Saxons side at the 2004-05 Churchill Cup tournament in Canada. Now a Canadian citizen, he lives in Calgary with his Canadian wife.
No domestic rugby game in Canada has ever had this much hype and attention.
It remains to be seen if Saturday’s championship final at Swilers — set to start at 3:30 p.m. — lives up to the publicity, but the game will make history whichever team takes the crown and the historic MacTier Cup.
Neither the Calgary-based Wolf Pack nor The Rock was in last year’s national final.
In that one, the British Columbia Bears defeated the Ontario Blues in a match-up of the country’s traditional rugby powers.
“Our objective,” Shelley said, “was to get in the final this year and I think both teams are surprised and happy we are meeting for the championship.”
The Rock team is comprised of players from the Atlantic region, while the Wolf Pack was put together with players from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.
That was a daunting assignment, according to Shelley.
“The first task was to get players from the three provinces together for one team and then put a game plan together that we could build on and implement in a short time,” he explained.
“There is a good player base there, but we had a wide geographic area (to draw from), which counts against us in terms of trying to get together to train. So ... we have a simple game plan.”
Rock coach Pat Parfrey is also anticipating a close, exciting match.
“Based on the game two weeks ago, which was probably the most exciting game ever played here, the upcoming match is going to be a coin toss in terms of who is going to win,” Parfrey said.
“There’s been a lot of buzz around town since the last game because it was so close and because of the excitement in the last 10 minutes”
The significance of Saturday’s match, which will be broadcast live across the country on CBC TV, is not lost on the opposing coaches who are hoping for a large turnout while expecting a battle to the end.
“The important thing for us is to get a big crowd out whether we get hail, rain or snow because we’re on national television,” added Parfrey, “and we can use the support.
“The players are ready play. The coaches’ job is nearly done. All we need now is a big crowd for the big game.”
Be sure to check out Saturday’s Telegram for a special feature on rugby — the game and why they play it.