Members of The Rock Canadian Rugby Championship league team practise at the Swilers Complex lower field on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s CRC game against the Ontario Blues. Here (from left) Robin Da Silva, Jason Picco and Patrick Parfrey go through a ball-passing drill. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
There’s no sugar-coating it. The Rock are between a hard place and a harder place as they prepare to take on the Ontario Blues in Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) league action Saturday at the Swilers Complex in St. John’s.
“This will be the least experienced team to represent The Rock for a decade,” said coach Pat Parfrey, “and we’ll need strong fan support to help us compete against the strongest Ontario team for a long time.”
The four-team CRC league is a real dog fight this season, with six points separating the first-place British Columbia Bears and last-place Rock. Ontario and the Prairie Wolf Pack each have seven points.
Ontario looked strong in beating the Bears 46-21 earlier this season, while B.C. defeated The Rock 43-19 in the CRC season-opener. If that’s any indication of the way things are going, The Rock will need all hands on deck Saturday at the refurbished Swilers Complex. Game time is 3 p.m.
The Rock has two games remaining against Ontario and one against B.C. The Wolf Pack have games remaining against the Bears and Blues.
This is the most competitive the elite national senior league has ever been, and heading into this weekend, any one of the four teams could claim the title.
There isn’t a championship game this season, so the team that finishes first wins the crown.
“The way its turned out, with the four regions,” said Parfrey, “every game is important.”
“We have to win our remaining three games. “We’re paying two of those games at home with is an advantage but the final game is in Ontario, so it will be difficult.
“We’re in transition,” noted Parfrey. “We’re moving on to the next batch of players coming up that we’ve been developing, so we’ll see how good they are.
“There is an intense rivalry between the Rock and Ontario, so it will be an opportunity for our young bucks to perform in a big game,” he said.
Rock flanker Owen Parfrey, who can also play the hooker and No .8 slot, said despite missing some players, The Rock has an advantage in one area.
“I think we have the edge in the backs, so it’s up to us to get the ball to them or they won’t be a factor,”
He also gives his team an edge in fitness.
“We’ve been training extremely hard, especially over the past few weeks, to give us that edge. We hope to run them around the park a bit.”
A loss Saturday would reduce The Rock to playing the spoilers role the rest of the way, something they are not used to and certainly wouldn’t relish.
The Rock have a substantially altered team from that which beat the Canada Selects and narrowly lost to Salta of Argentina in May.
Standouts Frank Walsh, Jebb Sinclair, Chauncey O’Toole and Ciaran Hearn are in the Canadian World Cup squad, while several players are on the injury list.
“Their (the Blues’) front five is big and strong and includes five Canadian internationals who have demolished the Bears and the Wolf Pack in the scrums,” noted Parfrey.