Rock bottom

John
John Browne
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Local team needs more quality games, experience for a shot at beating powerhouse Ontario

The Rock lost two games to the three-time defending league champion Ontario Blues during the 2013 Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) campaign by a total of five points, but a 1-4 record has left the St. John’s based team in last place with concerns about its competitive future.
Ontario completed a perfect 5-0 season Saturday by defeating The Rock 26-23 at Swilers Complex. The Blues beat the Rock 27-25 earlier this season, while The Rock’s only win was a 16-14 home decision over Prairie Wolf Pack in August.

The Rock’s Robert Wilson (11) is tackeld to the ground by the Ontario Blues’ Matt Alexander during first-half action of their Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) game at the Swilers Rugby Complex on Saturday afternoon. The Blues won 26-23 and claimed their third straight league title. At rear is the Rock’s Geoff Warden. In our cover image, The Rock’s Ciaran Hearn is held up by the Blues’ Derek Daypuck. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The Rock lost two games to the three-time defending league champion Ontario Blues during the 2013 Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) campaign by a total of five points, but a 1-4 record has left the St. John’s based team in last place with concerns about its competitive future.

Ontario completed a perfect 5-0 season Saturday by defeating The Rock 26-23 at Swilers Complex. The Blues beat the Rock 27-25 earlier this season, while The Rock’s only win was a 16-14 home decision over Prairie Wolf Pack in August.

While the rebuilding Rock side played better this year than last year, there was little in the way of success to show for it as the team produced only six points to finish behind the Blues (23), B.C. Bears (12) and Prairie Wolf Pack (10).

Clearly, the rebuilding Rock have taken baby steps when giant steps are needed.

Rock coach Simon Blanks concedes that’s true, but he does see a wee bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

“Our mission at the start of the year was to play better than we did last year so, in that sense, mission accomplished,” Blanks said after Saturday’s match.

“The only disappointment is that, while we improved, it still isn’t good enough yet.”

Blanks said the Blues are where The Rock once were when they were winning back-to-back championships, especially the ability to win close games.

“You’ve got to learn to win those close games,” said Blanks. “You do that and all of a sudden you get on a roll.

“The core of our team now is much younger than those champion Rock teams, especially when Frankie (Walsh) comes off,” Blanks added with a grin.

“They (Blues) tackle, tackle, tackle and when they get an offensive chance, they take it. We’ve tried to counter their strengths but we’re not quite there yet. Having said that, we didn’t really get blown out of any games despite the injury problems we had all season,” Blanks noted.

Still, the bottom line, according to Blanks is that The Rock has to find ways of getting in more quality games in preparation for the short CRC league.

There’s a bigger gap in Atlantic rugby compared to Ontario club rugby, Blanks pointed out. And it’s a big jump to the CRC level, he said.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve club and getting some tougher preparation games would definitely help,” he said.

The Rock dominated the first 15 minutes Saturday and built up an 8-0 lead with the help of a corner try by Kevin Parfrey. The lead could have been more substantial, but Ciaran Hearn, who played solid defence and had some positive runs on the day, was unable to convert a couple of makeable penalties from close range.

As it turned out, The Rock couldn’t afford to leave any points on the field.

The Rock did produce the best try of the season at Swilers Complex which began with a perfect chip kick that Toni Wodziki gathered just inside the Blues’ 22-metre line. A couple of quick passes later and Robert Wilson touched down in the corner.

Wilson scored his second try and Hearn converted giving The Rock a 23-19 lead with seven minutes to play, but the home side couldn’t hang on as the defence wasn’t up to the task.

Hearn, who was playing his first game for The Rock this season, is back in British Columbia today with the national side.

He’s looking to be part of the sevens series in Brisbane, Australia or possibly Canada’s ARC (America’s Rugby Championship) team in Victoria. He also has some Test matches with Canada’s 15s on his schedule for October and November.

“I’m hoping to be a part of most, if not all, of those games,” said Hearn.

 

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Ontario, Canada, British Columbia Brisbane Australia America Victoria

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