Atlantic team focuses on positives after 22-17 loss to Ontario on first day of national junior rugby tourney
The Atlantic Rock were a few errors away from upsetting the powerhouse Ontario Blues in the Canadian U-19 rugby championship Wednesday night at Swilers Complex.
Ontario came away with a hard-fought 22-17 victory, while the defending champion British Columbia Bears defeated the Prairie Wolf Pack 26-7 in the other match on the opening day of the five-day, round-robin tournament.
© Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
The Ontario Blues’ Dillon Goos (right) passes the ball as he is chased by the Atlantic Rock’s Chris Browne (second from right) during their opening game in the 2014 Canadian under-19 rugby championship at the Swiler’s Complex in St. John’s on Wednesday night. The Blues won 22-17.
Chris Browne led the Rock with two tries. Mark Petro kicked two conversions and a penalty.
Play continues today with the Lower Canada Voyageurs taking on British Columbia at 5 p.m. and the Atlantic Rock going up against the Prairie Wolf Pack at 6:30 p.m.
Rock coach Pat Parfrey said he was surprised the score was close given Ontario’s reputation on putting players on national teams.
“But,” he added quickly, “based on the way we prepared this year, we felt we had more depth than we’ve ever had. We made mistakes, but we really didn’t have a weak position.”
There was certainly a lot of positive talk in the Rock’s huddle on the field after the match.
“I thought we played pretty well,” said Parfrey. “There were a lot of good things going on. I felt we defended very well overall.”
An unforced error inside the Rock’s 22-metre line led to Ontario’s first try 20 minutes into the game.
Ontario scored again just before the end of the opening 30 minutes for a 12-0 lead.
Petro, after missing his first three-point attempt, kicked a penalty about seven minutes into the second half to give the home crowd something to cheer about, but Ontario touched down in the corner three minutes later for a 17-3 advantage
The home team scored a converted try to make the score 17-10, but three minutes later, while the Blues were playing a man short due to a yellow card, Ontario’s fullback waltzed untouched 30 metres to put the game away.
The Rock showed some real grit in playing hard to the end, but it wasn’t enough.
While Parfrey acknowledged giving up the first try was disappointing, he wasn’t about to hand out any kudos for Ontario’s second one
Parfrey said the Rock’s flanker was held illegally by the Blues’ flanker and that’s why their No. 8 was given a free run to the endzone.
“It should have been a penalty for us,” claimed Parfrey.
The Rock did come away with a bonus point from losing by seven points or less. Wins are worth four points. There’s also a bonus point for scoring four or more tries.
Rock centre Sean O’Grady said the players felt they could compete with Ontario and he wasn’t surprised it was such a close match given his team’s effort.
“We fell short at the end, but aside from a few mental errors, we could just as easily have come out on top,” he said. “We know we can compete with the bigger rugby programs.”
O’Grady has a real good idea of the strength of Ontario rugby.
He was born in St. John’s, but has lived in Barrie, Ont. He moved to Ontario as a five-year old and picked up rugby three years later.
He explained that Simon Blanks, who is now the senior Rock coach, knew he was born in this province and approached him during an under-15 tournament, where he was playing for Ontario.
“He asked if I wanted to play for The Rock and I considered that since I was born here I’d like to come back and play for them,” said O’Grady, who has played the past two seasons with Newfoundland age-group sides.
“I like the guys I’m playing with and I feel like I fit in because I was born here,” he added.
O’Grady also plays in the Ontario senior league which consists of two eight-team divisions.
He said there shouldn’t be any trouble getting up for the next match despite the team’s first loss.
“We put up a fight and I felt we played well which should give us confidence.”
National under-20 coach scouting the championship
Mike Shelley, a rugby legend in England and former coach of the Calgary-based Prairie Wolf Pack, is in St. John’s for the Under-19 Canadian Rugby Championship.
Shelley is manager of the Rugby Canada’s National Academy program and head coach for the men’s under-20 program. He’s here with Alana Gattinger, manager of Rugby Canada’s competitions and team services, to gather performance data of individual players representing the five Canadian regional teams competing this week at the Swilers Rugby Pitch in St. John’s.
At the end of the tournament, top players from the British Columbia Bears, Ontario Blues, Lower Canada Voyageurs, Prairie Wolf Pack and the Atlantic Rock will be invited to Langford, B.C., for high performance training and the final cut to represent Canada internationally.
The 42-year-olds Shelley is longest-serving player in the history of Leeds Tykes rugby club, which has competed in the English Premiership and RFU Championship.
He saw time with England’s A squad internationally, and also was the Tykes’ captain for a number of years before retiring as a player.