Ontario Blues repeat as champs with 40-16 win, but young Rock players gain valuable experience at elite level
Ciaran Hearn (right) of The Atlantic Rock tackles Ryan Macsween (11) of the Ontario Blues in Canadian Rugby Championship play Saturday at the Swilers pitch in St. John’s. The Rock lost 40-16, as the Blues celebrated a second consecutive title. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
The Atlantic Rock closed out its 2012 Canadian Rugby Championship season with a 40-16 spanking at the hands of the Ontario Blues Saturday, finishing the year at 2-3, but the team’s coaching staff is determined to stay the course with a youth movement it hopes will eventually lead to another national championship sooner rather than later.
“Absolutely. Bang on,” Rock head coach Simon Blanks replied when suggested the St. John’s-based Atlantic regional team is rugby’s answer to the Edmonton Oilers, a team taking its lumps as it stockpiles a wealth of young talent.
“But the thing is with us, we haven’t taken that many lumps. Yes, we were beaten by a better team (at the Swilers Complex Saturday). Ontario’s second-half performance was outstanding.
“However, we had two games (against the Blues in Ontario, and against the Prairie Wolf Pack in St. John’s) where we lost by only a score each game.
“We’re delighted with our progression so far.”
The Rock started the season with the daunting task of finding replacements for former national team standout and erstwhile pro Rod Snow, not to mention long-time provincial team player and former Rock captain, Peter Densmore, after both retired.
Chris Mooney and Sean O’Leary also stepped aside from The Rock this year, and Morgan Williams opted to remain in Victoria, B.C. playing club rugby.
On top of that, Dean Blanks, Kevin Parfrey, Morgan Lovell and Geoff Warden — all of whom have been stalwarts on The Rock — missed most or all of the season to an assortment of injuries.
Over the course of the 2012 season, coach Blanks said, The Rock used “10 or 11” players who were 21 or younger, including 18-year-old Alex Rogers who saw some action Saturday.
“We’ve categorically stated that this season was the first of a five-year plan,” Blanks said, “that’s included the integration of players from our under-20 team that won a Canadian gold medal two years ago.
“From that team, six or eight players have graduated to The Rock.”
The Rock enjoyed a great start to the season, going 4-0 on a tour of B.C., a series of games used to select the CRC roster.
But things got a little tougher when the regular season got going, losing two close ones (23-19 and 22-18) to Ontario and the Prairies.
“It’s called experience for a reason,” Blanks said. “When you have 10 or 11 inexperienced players replacing some of the most experienced players we’ve ever had, well, that can be difficult.
“Even though our kids are good — very good — you can’t buy that experience.
“But it’s part of the process. It takes time to learn from your mistakes, and you can’t learn by playing club rugby. It takes a lot more top-quality games and it’s not like we get 30 quality games a year. It’s more like five or six, so in order to get the 30, we need five years and that’s our time frame.”
With the win, the Blues won their second straight CRC title.
Ontario captain Derek Daypuck was presented with the MacTier Cup by Rugby Canada’s Mike Chu.
There was some good news for The Rock as Owen Parfrey, Patrick Parfrey, Jon Phelan, Toni Wodzicki and Zac Coughlan were selected to play for Canada the Americas Rugby Championship next month in Victoria, B.C.
Bob Rogers, only 21, was also selected, but is unavailable because of university commitments, and Kyle Bailey is injured and unavailable.
Canada will take on the United States, Argentina Jaguars and Uruguay in the Americas championship.
On another note, The Rock’s Ciaran Hearn (from Conception Bay South) and Chauncey O’Toole will play for Canada’s 7s team in the International Rugby Board circuit. Their first event is Australia’s Gold Coast Sevens scheduled for Oct. 13-14.