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Rock roll in the rain to national U19 gold medal

Their faces showed feelings of sheer joy and perhaps a bit of relief following the final whistle of the national under-19 rugby championship final game Saturday at the Swilers Rugby Complex in St. John’s. The Rock defeated the Ontario Blues 21-5 to win their first U19 title in nine years. — photo by Colin Squires
Their faces showed feelings of sheer joy and perhaps a bit of relief following the final whistle of the national under-19 rugby championship final game Saturday at the Swilers Rugby Complex in St. John’s. The Rock defeated the Ontario Blues 21-5 to win their first U19 title in nine years. — photo by Colin Squires - Contributed

On a wet and soggy Swilers pitch, Atlantic Rock come out on top of Ontario this time

On a wet and soggy Swilers Rugby Pitch Saturday afternoon, the Atlantic Rock turned the tide on their Ontario visitors at the national under-19 rugby championship, outscoring the heavily-favoured Blues 21-5 to win its first Canadian championship in this age group in nine years.

As the skies opened over St. John’s Saturday, the Rock steamrolled Ontario early on, scoring a pair of first-half tries by Michael McCarthy and Connor McKinney for a 14-0 lead, with Laurie Baldwin making good on the conversions.

That’s in contrast to Thursday’s final game of the round-robin, which saw Ontario trim the Rock — comprised of players from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — 33-12.

In that game, the Blues scored early, and kept their foot on the gas the rest of the way.

“We had an amazing performance in the first half,” said Brendan Parfrey, who handled the Rock’s coaching duties with Kevin Parfrey and Peter Densmore, of Sunday’s final.

“We had a couple of nice scores, and one long goal line stand which really set the tone for us throughout the rest of the game.

“It was a pretty inspiring performance by our guys,” he said. “I’m super proud of them to pull this off.”

Alex Hickman scored a try early in the second half with another convert by Baldwin to push the score to 21-0. Ontario managed to score a try late in the game to make it a 21-5 final.

The Rock featured 13 Newfoundland and Labrador players on the roster, including McCarthy, the captain, and Campbell Clarke, the co-captain.

It was the second straight national final meeting between the Rock and Blues. Ontario won last year in Saskatoon, Sask., beating the Atlantic squad by five points.

Parfrey admitted his troops were better able to deal with Saturday’s heavy rain which hit the metro area. The Rock, he said, didn’t have too many handling errors.

“We were very well prepared and ready to go regardless of the weather,” Parfrey said. “We were able to persevere despite the weather.”

Parfrey said the coaches didn’t exactly go back to the drawing board after Thursday’s loss to the Blues — in a short tournament, time does not allow one to reinvent the wheel — but he did say more emphasis was placed on the mental side of the game in team meetings.

“We had a couple of sessions where we discussed strategy, and we did some visualizing, ensuring each and everybody knew what their role was,” he said.

“The guys were completely dialed in. I coach a lot at this age group, and it’s difficult to get them dialed in all the time, but these guys were very professional, very much geared up for this one.

“It was a different feel than it was Thursday.”

robin.short@thetelegram.com

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