It doesn’t figure to get any easier, but the architect behind the Atlantic Rock — not to mention the players — will keep plugging away in an effort to shift the team’s fortunes on the Canadian rugby stage.
And like any struggling pro sports team, the key to turnaround is an infusion of young talent into the big club’s lineup.
“I think our talent is improving,” said the Atlantic Rock’s Pat Parfrey this week, “and the place where it will come out is our under-19 team.
“We’re pretty good there.”
A new four-team Canadian Rugby Championship season for the Atlantic Rock opens next weekend in Toronto, the first of four games for the St. John’s-based side.
The other three games are at the Swilers Rugby Complex in St. John’s where the Rock will play their second straight game against the Ontario Blues July 2, followed by matches against the B.C. Bears (July 21) and defending champs Prairie Wolf Pack (July 24).
These are lean times for the Atlantic Rock, which is 3-15 the past four years.
Their only CRC title came in 2010 on home soil, the first year Rugby Canada went with a regional approach to national senior men’s play.
Part of the problem is the simple fact that the stars of 2010, and the three Rugby Canada Super League championships prior to that, have retired and no one of their calibre has risen to the challenge.
Let’s face it, it’s not easy filling cleats once worn by locals Rod Snow, Peter Densmore and Kenny Goodland, and Ciaran Hearn who is now playing pro. Not to mention Canadian internationals like Morgan Williams and Jebb Sinclair.
“Our team was as good as the Canadian team,” Parfrey said of the 2010 squad.
Under the regional concept, the Atlantic team has the largest geographic area in the league.
“The affect of that is we lost that club atmosphere,” Parfrey said. “We could make up for lack of ability by better organization and more fitness.
“Ontario benefitted from centralization… they’re able to train all week. The prairies are virtually centralized because most of their players come from Calgary and B.C. just has Victoria and Vancouver.
“We are the most de-centralized of the group. We’re up against it.”
The team’s roster makeup lately has been about 50-50 in relation to Newfoundlanders vs players from Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick.
Parfrey sees some bright light in the form of the Rock’s under-19 squad. Like the CRC, U19 has taken on a regional approach and the Atlantic Rock U19s have claimed bronze medals in each of the past two years.
Parfrey also likes Newfoundland’s under-16 team, which, he says, has “a bunch” of good athletes.
“The challenge for us is getting 25 good athletes,” he said. “If we get 15, we’ll be pretty good. But to beat B.C. and Ontario, we need 25. We won’t beat them otherwise. That’s a challenge.”
As if he’s not busy enough with his career in medicine, Parfrey has returned to what he most enjoys — coaching.
He will be handling the Atlantic Rock’s reins with Simon Blanks, in addition to coaching the U16s with Morgan Lovell and the U19 squad.
“I like coaching,” he said, before adding with a grin, “and I decided I wanted to get back into it, even though I’m an old man.”
Parfrey and Blanks won’t finalize the Rock’s roster until after today’s second of two exhibition games against the Newport Rugby Football Club from Wales. The game is 2:30 p.m. at the Swilers.
The Atlantic Rock, bolstered by additions from players who took part in last weekend’s Al Charron Cup in St. John’s, beat Newport 18-5 Wednesday.
“We have to maximize our talent, and try and get together more for training,” Parfrey said. “We’ve always said the two things we can control are fitness and organization. We try to be really good at those.
“Currently, we don’t have enough good players so we’ll always be up against it with B.C. and Ontario.
“We’re dependent on what comes through under-19, and wherever we can add one or two good players like (Tyler) Wish and (Geoff) Warden who came here doing their post-graduate degrees. They made an enormous difference here.
“That was the stuff that pushed us up. So if the same thing happened now, that would make a difference. Two players would make a huge difference to us.”
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