After watching his team suffer a couple of close losses to start its 2012 Canadian Rugby Championship schedule, Atlantic Rock coach Simon Blanks wasn’t as concerned with earning a win Tuesday night as much as he was in seeing a vast improvement in the contact game.
“Our number one focus tonight, irrespective of the score, was to see if we could step up and be men and not let the opposition bring the game to us, but (for us) take it to them,” Blanks said of the plan of attack against the Victoria, B.C.-based Pacific Tyee in a game at the Swilers Rugby Complex.
Blanks players responded, delivering a punishing physical game, while Ciaran Hearn kicked seven penalties in a hard-fought 26-20 victory. Owen Parfrey added a try for The Rock late in the first half.
“Because we don’t get many wins against B.C. teams, historically, to beat them is an extremely proud moment for all of us, especially on the back of two narrow losses,” said Blanks.
The Rock lost its CRC opener 23-19 to the Ontario Blues, then dropped a 22-18 decision to the Prairie Wolf Pack Saturday in St. John’s.
The Wolf Pack leads the league, but Prairie’s 38-17 loss to the Blues in Tuesday’s other CRC game keeps The Rock’s title hopes alive. But realization of those hopes won’t come easy — The Rock will need to win their last two games — Sept. 15 in Calgary against the Wolf Pack and Sept. 22 at home against the Blues — while collecting as many bonus points as possible, while at the same time hoping the Tyee defeat the Blues Sept 15.
After letting Saturday’s game get away from them in the waning minutes of the second half, the Rock were in danger of allowing the same thing to happen again Tuesday. Not long after Hearn kicked his sixth penalty to put the Rock up 23-15, his missed attempt at a long-range drop goal resulted in a turnover and the Tyee’s Conor Trainor scoring a try to bring the visitors within one penalty.
“We were terrified going into the last few minutes because they were starting to get a few rumbles, a few trundles, a few offloads and a few breaks,” says Blanks.
“We were trying to prevent them from getting into any kind of continuity like that and I think we managed to do it just enough.”
The home side did so by sacrificing any potential bonus points awarded for scoring more tries by having Hearn kick penalties instead, thereby slowing the game down considerably. Several times in the second half, Pat Parfrey, The Rock’s director of rugby, could be heard yelling “Go for points!”
“They’ve got a team of runners, once they got any kind of fluidity of play they were deadly, so we were trying to limit their opportunities to get their backs into the game,” said Blanks.
“Right now, I couldn’t give a monkey’s ... about the bonus points, just the fact they dug in deep and lifted themselves up off two narrow losses.
While Blanks and Parfrey continued to use a roster made up largely of under-21 players, the return of Chauncey O’Toole to the Rock midfield paid off as the national team player dished out twice as many hits as he took.
“It brings everybody up when we know he’s coming and ready to play,” Hearn says of his long-time teammate.
“Not to take anything away from anyone else, but to have someone of his caliber come on the field and put forward the effort he does is amazing.”
As for the daunting task The Rock faces in its quest for a championship Hearn believes “it can be done.”
“We didn’t do ourselves any favours in the first two games, but hopefully, we can get a couple of victories and get a few bonus points and maybe hope for another team to lose one,” he said
For those wondering, a fish story
Prior to this year, the Pacific region representatives in the Canadian Rugby Championship have hit the pitch under the B.C. Bears moniker. This year’s team name, ironically enough, is that of main staple in a B.C. bear’s diet: the tyee salmon.
Also known as the chinook salmon or king salmon, the fish are native to the northern Pacific ocean and rivers in western North America from California all the way to Alaska, where it is the state fish.
An adult tyee ranges in size from 33 to 36 inches and has an average weight of about 50 pounds. The commercial catch world record is a 126-pound specimen caught near Rivers Inlet, B.C. in the late 1970s.