The Rock, with an option to take a sure penalty kick that would have tied the score late in the second half of their game against Salta Province of Argentina, opted instead to go for the win, and while the bold decision backfired — Salta won 16-13 — it was appreciated by many of the hometown fans who took in the match at Swilers Complex Thursday.
“We had a chance to take the tie,” said Rock scrum half Sean White, “but we got together as a team and decided we’d played too hard not to go for the win.”
The win gave the visitors the inaugural Canada/Argentina Rugby Challenge and the Amerigo Vespucci Trophy in a feisty, sometimes nasty match that was exciting to the end.
Veteran Rod Snow and Brad Lester had the tries for The Rock, which also got a penalty kick from Dean Blanks, who missed a convert and a couple of penalty kicks.
Salta’s scrum half Exequiel Lico was his team’s star, kicking three penalties and one convert. Francisco Arias Linareas scored the Argentinians’ only try.
“We had eight or 10 opportunities to win it late, but we may have been caught up emotionally in all of the shenanigans going on, and it probably got the best of us,” said Snow.
“I think this is a game we typically win. We usually find a way because we are smart players, but it just kind of left us at the end.”
The Rock dominated the final 15 minutes and by the end of the game, Salta was on the ropes and was very fortunate to come away with the three-point victory.
“We were outstanding in the second half and deserved to win the game,” said Rock coach Pat Parfrey.
Lester said he felt The Rock gave the visitors “too much credit” at the start of the game.
“In the second half, we played our style of game and we played all over them.”
When asked about Salta’s sometimes questionable tactics, especially in the first half, Lester smiled and said “They definitely bring a little different style of play to the table than we are used to.”
Three Salta players were booked and two Rock players sat out 10-minute penalties as the game almost got out of referee Andrew Hall’s control.
Rock hooker Peter Densmore had to leave the game for several minutes after being punched in the face and Rock’s Owen Parfrey was intentionally kicked in the back of the leg.
The game was delayed about 10 minutes in the second half when a few fans got into a physical altercation with at least one Salta player and another team staff member.
Some fans said they were getting on some of the visiting players as they usually do when a Salta training staff member either spit or squirt water from a bottle on some fans. One fan apparently responded by dousing the Argentinian with a beer. It was also reported there were some punches exchanged between a player and at least one fan.
Players on the field and from each of the team benches raced across the field to the area where the altercation broke out.
When order was restored, one fan was escorted from the field by security, while all the spectators sitting in the east side bleachers, where the altercation occurred, were forced to move the near side of the complex.
“We had a chance to take the tie, but we got together as a team and decided we’d played too hard not to go for the win.” - Rock scrum half Sean White
The delay seemed to work in Salta’s favour as The Rock players lost their focus for several minutes. However, the home side put it back together and dominated the rest of the way.
It looked as if it was only a matter of time before The Rock touched down for the winning points but, to their credit the Salta defence held under extreme pressure.
Salta coach Osvaldo Lico, through an interpreter, said after the match “one of the best points” of his team is its defence.
He also wasn’t surprised by the closeness of the game, saying he expected it to be competitive.
White, inserted into The Rock roster as a replacement for Morgan Williams, said the atmosphere at the match was great.
“I played on the other side of it before and it was good to have the crowd behind me this time,” he said.
“The crowd here has always been on the edge,” added White who played for B.C. Bears when they beat the Rock a few years ago in St. John’s.
“The Rock is a team with unity unlike any other team I’ve played on,” added White, who was sporting a bandage on his head after taking a crack in the second half.
“The way they all pull for each other is unbelievable.”