Rock, Thunder get ready to rumble

John
John Browne
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Eastern Canadian under-20 title on the line at Swilers on Saturday

Junior Rock rugby coach Simon Blanks and his under-20 team have a difficult undertaking Saturday when they goes up against a more experienced Ontario side for an Eastern Canadian championship at Swilers Complex.

Blanks doesn't sugar-coat the obvious. The Niagara Thunder will be expected to win and it will take an inspired effort to upset the favourites.

Junior Rock coach Simon Blanks (background) barks out orders to his players during a practice in Mount Pearl earlier this week. The Rock take on Niagara Thunder in the Eastern Canadian under-20 rugby final 3 p.m. Saturday at Swilers Complex. The winner wi

Junior Rock rugby coach Simon Blanks and his under-20 team have a difficult undertaking Saturday when they goes up against a more experienced Ontario side for an Eastern Canadian championship at Swilers Complex.

Blanks doesn't sugar-coat the obvious. The Niagara Thunder will be expected to win and it will take an inspired effort to upset the favourites.

"They (the Rock juniors) will have to play at their best to be in with a shout of defeating Niagara," Blanks said.

Saturday's winner gets to play host to the Western Canadian champions to decide the country's best junior side. British Columbia is the defending champ.

"We are definitely not looking beyond the Ontario game," said Blanks.

Game time is 3 p.m. at Swilers Complex.

Niagara earned its berth with an 31-15 win over the Ottawa Harlequins.

"The biggest challenge I suspect," said Blanks, "will be the fact Niagara will have a team of predominantly under-20s, while we have a team of predominantly under-19s, and that extra year of elite experience is tough to overcome."

Like a lot of Newfoundland coaches, Blanks likes to play the underdog card, but he may have a legitimate point in that Newfoundland's representatives include five under-18s, 12 under-19s and only five under-20s.

Still, he isn't conceding anything to the visitors.

The Rock juniors defeated Quebec 25-14 and crushed host New Brunswick Timber 71-9 to earn the right to meet Ontario.

"The front row is as good as anything in the country, with Bob Rogers, Jordon Power and Robert Spearing as the starting players who torment an opposition," said Blanks. "The lineout work of Justin Grainger and Craig Lynch was phenomenal (in New Brunswick), so we will be looking to play a bit of position and steal some of their (Thunder) throw-ins.

"The backline has guile and pace, with Patrick Parfrey leading the team from out-half or centre, but we'll will need to steel up our defence for the Niagara game and it could prove to be a weakness if we are not tough enough in midfield.

"Zac Coughlan is unstoppable from No. 8, but he will need to play for 80 minutes if we are to have a chance of winning."

Well-prepped in Quebec game

An upset Saturday is feasible, according to fullback Patrick McNicholas, who said the game two weeks ago against Quebec provided good preparation for this weekend.

"It was definitely the best Quebec team any of us have played," said McNicholas.

"We have some players who have played nationally or internationally, so we feel we are good enough to beat Ontario,.

"We are young, but some of the players have been together three years at the under-20 level."

McNicholas was a standout in New Brunswick, along with prop Rogers, second-row Grainger, No. 8 Coughlan, centre Kyle McGuirk and Parfrey, the team's captain. who says the players "strongly believe" they have a shot at winning Saturday's match.

"They (the Thunder) are obviously going to be skilled, but hopefully, we'll be just as strong as them and match up in heart and determination," he said.

Parfrey said after a practice earlier this week in Mount Pearl that the team's strength this year probably is its forward pack. "We've got a strong front row and a mobile back row and we can make breaks and get down field.

"Ontario will assume they will have more ball possession and we'll be mostly defending," added Parfrey. "Hopefully, we can play like traditional Newfoundlanders and smash them back."

Beating powerhouse Ontario, while usually difficult, isn't impossible as Junior Rock proved in 2007 when they defeated Niagara 31-19.

The Ontario representatives have had the advantage the past two years, however, beating Newfoundland 15-6 in 2008 and 23-7 last season.

Niagara coach Jonathan Goldie told the Rugby Canada website his team will need to play a lot better and more consistently when they come to Newfoundland this time.

"The Rock have a tradition of being very tough and determined, and the fan base down there is something special and worth at least five points to the home team, so our lads will have work to do," Goldie said.

The Rock apparently also know they have work to do, too.

After Blanks addressed his team in a huddle before practice, Parfrey reminded his mates they were a little slack in a previous workout and he wanted them to "pick it up."

Several players nodded in agreement before getting down to business.

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

ROCK ROSTER

Props: Bob Rogers, Robert Spearing, Alex Marshall

Hookers: Jordon Power, Casey Kavers

2nd Rows: Justin Grainger, Craig Lynch, Kyle Baillie, Ryan Monohan

Back Row: Neil Molloy, Dennis Maher, Zac Coughlin, Matt O'Reilly

Backs: Mike Pittman, Scott O'Shea, Patrick Parfrey, Kyle McGuirk, Llyr Morris, Stefan Mackey, Marc Bennett, Devin Lacey, Patrick McNicholas, Alex Rogers

Coach: Simon Blanks

Organizations: Niagara, Rugby Canada

Geographic location: Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland British Columbia New Brunswick Mount Pearl

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  • Jonathan
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I'm glad to see Simon coaching this team instead of Pat Parfrey. Its time to give Pat's foul mouth a rest. I'm sure the parents of this team will appreciate that.