Pitch battles abound this week

John
John Browne
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Twenty-six teams, including four representing this province, to compete in St. John's and Mount Pearl

The Newfoundland Rugby Union has played host to major national and international games over the years, but nothing like the Rugby Canada National Championship Festival which opens today in St. John's.

There will be 75 games played over the next five days involving five divisions and 26 teams from across the country. The festival was held previously in Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

The coaches for Newfoundland and Labradors teams at the National Championship Rugby Festival, which opens today in St. Johns are ( left to right) Pat Parfrey (under-18 men); Bas Crosbie (under-16 men), Roxanne Butler (under-19 women), Greg Keane (under-18

The Newfoundland Rugby Union has played host to major national and international games over the years, but nothing like the Rugby Canada National Championship Festival which opens today in St. John's.

There will be 75 games played over the next five days involving five divisions and 26 teams from across the country. The festival was held previously in Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

The tournament features competition the under-16 and under-18 men's and under-17 and under-19 women's divisions. Newfoundland is represented in all but the under-17 women's competition. As well, the festival will feature the national men's under-20 final between Newfoundland Rock and Fraser Valley, B.C.

Games will be played at Swilers Complex in St. John's and at the Dogs RFC in Mount Pearl. Playoff games will be held Sunday, aside from the national men's under-20 championship game, which is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday.

Provincial coach and event organizer Pat Parfrey was chair for a kickoff news conference Tuesday at Swilers Club and used the opportunity to introduce the home team coaches.

Simon Blanks is coach of Newfoundland's under-20 men's team; Greg Keane, along with Parfrey, will coach the under-18 boys' team; Bas Crosbie is coach of the boys' under-16 squad and Roxanne Butler will coach the under-19 girls' team.

Crosbie said it's difficult to predict how his young team, which won gold at the Eastern Canadian championship will respond to playing in the nationals.

"We've had some very good results in the last little while and we're obviously aiming for a medal," he said. "We've got a strong back line. Our forwards are a little younger, but they are fast."

Butler's team is the least experienced among the provincial representatives. She admits her team faces a tough task in that it didn't get to play any games within the province this season. She said it will be definitely a learning experience for her girls who are looking forward to the challenge. She also feels hosting tournament will be a great boost for women's rugby in the province.

Keane feels his team, which also won gold at the Eastern championship, is a medal contender. He knows B.C., Ontario and Alberta have strong teams, but says Newfoundland has definitely set a goal of winning a medal

"They surprised me at the Eastern championship," he said of his team. "They fought well and improved as the tournament went on."

Parfrey thanked the provincial government for "rescuing" the tournament.

He pointed out that six months ago, the tourney was nearly lost to Newfoundland due to unforeseen escalating cost of flights here. However, the provincial government stepped in with $100,000 to help offset the cost of playing host to the big tournament and the event was returned here

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland Rugby Union, Dogs RFC, Swilers Club

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's, Mount Pearl Canada Hamilton Winnipeg Vancouver Fraser Valley Ontario Alberta

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