The Rock and Wolf Pack played last weekend at the Swilers Complex in St. John’s, with The Rock winning 16-14. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
The Rock will look to win back-to-back games and move to the top of the Canadian Rugby Championship league standings when it faces the Prairie Wolf Pack in a rematch today in Calgary.
The two teams met Saturday at the Rugby Swilers Complex in St. John’s, with The Rock prevailing 16-14.
A win today and another against the British Columbia Bears in Langford, B.C., on Labour Day could vault the Rock, in the second year of a five-year rebuilding plan, into a position to play for the title against the Ontario Blues on Sept. 21 at the Swilers Complex.
The Blues beat the visiting Rock 27-25 earlier this month on the opening day of the 2013 CRC schedule.
“The away games are difficult to win in this tournament,” says Rock head coach Simon Blanks.
“But if we can pull off two miracle wins on the road, we could be playing for all the beans against Ontario at home.”
What’s more, the Rock will likely benefit from the return of national team player Ciaran Hearn for the September meeting with Ontario. Hearn is not available for either of this long weekend’s road games as Rugby Canada is resting a group of players who compete for both the national 15- and seven-aside squads.
But making the Blues game a meaningful one starts with collecting a win against the Wolf Pack today.
That task, however, comes with its own set of challenges as the Rock will be without several key players, forcing them to rely on a trio of relatively inexperienced players to fill the holes.
On the injury front, Alex Rogers is still out with a concussion and Brad Lester suffered a broken hand in Saturday’s game. The teams is also without Geoff Warden, who is unable to make the trip out West, and Toni Wodziki.
Wodziki, the talented back row from Montreal, was red-carded and ejected from Saturday’s game after decking a Wolf Pack player. The subsequent suspension could be anywhere from two to nine weeks, but Blanks says it could be reduced to as short one week.
“There are mitigating factors,” Blanks says, pointing to Wodziki’s clean record.
“So we’re hopeful we get a bit of luck and the judicial officer gives him the low entry and reduces it by half.”
Stepping in are multi-positional Andrew Jamieson from Quebec and Ian Armour, a young wing from Nova Scotia
“He did very well at the beginning of the season, just lacks a little bit of experience,” Blanks says Armour.
“He’s about to get it.”
The Rock will also add Hayden Thomassin, brother of Bryce Thomassin.
“He’s been around the program for a while. He’s an excellent rugby player and a utility guy,” Blanks says.
“We kind of need that bit of diversity.”
The Wolf Pack, meanwhile, will have their lineup bolstered by the return of national team players Adam Tiederman and Nick Blevins.
Blanks is hopeful they can give rugby fans Newfoundland a game worth cheering for when they get home.
“If we can actually be in that last game with it all on the line, then the crowd as the 16th man will be undeniably the difference, as they have been in the past for us.
“If we can do our bit, we’re hoping they will come out and do their bit for us.”
The rest of the Rock’s roster for the two games includes Frank Walsh, Owen Parfrey, Kyle Baillie, Justin Meyers, Kevin Parfrey, Matt Heaton, Zac Coughlan, Mike Simpson, Patrick Parfrey, Bryce Thomassin, Robert Wilson, Jason Picco, Dean Blanks, Jordan Power, Steve Cutliff, Mike Holloway, Mike Haycock, Grant Crowell.