Rugby is all about cohesion and teamwork. It’s about timing, solid defence, limiting mistakes and finishing.
All of those components will need to come together for the Atlantic Rock to have any chance for a medal at the Junior (Under-19) Canadian Rugby Championship, which opens today at Swilers Complex in St. John’s.
The tournament, which features five regional teams, will begin with the British Columbia Bears facing the Prairie (Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba) Wolf Pack at five o’clock, followed by the host team against the Ontario Blues at 6:30 p.m.
The Lower Canada Voyageurs (Ottawa and Quebec) are the other entry in the competition, which involves 130 players.
The Atlantic Rock is comprised of players from Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
“Our objective is to medal,” said Rock coach Pat Parfrey. “The colour of the medal will be determined by performance and fan support.”
The Rock squad is comprised of 14 players from Newfoundland and Labrador, two from Prince Edward Island, two from Nova Scotia and eight from New Brunswick.
Parfrey explained that two years ago the Atlantic Rock were “totally outclassed” and last year did not enter a team in the event.
However, he noted, this year’s team has prepared assiduously, with two selection camps in Halifax and one in St John’s.
In addition to under-19 players, the Rock will benefit from being able to use six U20 players rather than U18 players to provide a more competitive team.
The core of the team is last year’s U18 Newfoundland team, which will be strengthened by the U20 players and a set of backs from the mainland.
Ontario and B.C. are considered the co-favourites.
“For a young Rock team, we don’t have big holes,” noted Parfrey.
“We’ve got a good pack of forwards and decent backs from New Brunswick. Of course, the difficulty is the usual story of Ontario and British Columbia being ahead of us at this level. But if we get it right, we could create a surprise.”
Parfrey said the Rock’s first game against Ontario “will reveal the fortitude of the host team.”
It’s not easy putting together a cohesive unit of players from four provinces and the Atlantic Rock hasn’t been together that long, but captain Kieran Lacey believes the team has come together very well.
"We’ve known each other through the years from playing against each other, so we’ve got a good feel for each other’s skill level. And the camps have helped in terms of team bonding,” said the Rock’s No. 8.
He has also noticed something a little different with this group of players.
“Usually, with the Atlantic teams, the forwards is the dominant group, but this year, we have a phenomenal backs from New Brunswick. We’ve noticed the backs are outshining the forwards in each practice, which is a first,” he said with a smile.
Lacey knows his team is up against some very strong opposition.
“We realize we’re definitely the underdogs,” he said. “We always have been, so we’re used to that. But I like playing as the underdog. It gives you that extra fire.”
Besides Parfrey the team’s other co-coach is Les Gilson. Rick Graham is the team’s manager.
Saturday will be a big rugby day, with Prairie playing the Voyageurs at 1 p.m. and Ontario facing British Columbia at 3 p.m., followed by the senior Rock trial featuring Newfoundland vs Atlantic Canada at 4.30 p.m.
Meanwhile, during a break in a passing drill at the start of Tuesday night’s practice, Parfrey cautioned, “Remember, every time you drop the ball, Ontario f---ing scores.”
It was a point not lost on the players.