TSAWWASSEN — Last season, perhaps the most talked-about game at the B.C. high school boys rugby championships was the opening-round Triple A contest between Abbotsford’s No. 2-ranked Yale Lions and the lightly-regarded South Delta Sun Devils.
Yale, on the strength of a penalty kick with two minutes remaining, pulled out a 13-12 win, yet the point seemed to be clearly made that South Delta, a school renowned for its tackling on the football field, had made huge gains on its way to becoming a force on the rugby pitch.
Yale recovered its form and went on to finish second, while the Sun Devils, out of absolutely nowhere, finished seventh in B.C.
One season later, nothing seems to have slowed the forward momentum of a school whose prior sports pedigree has been centred around its B.C. title-winning football and girls soccer programs.
“We have the athletes at the school, and more and more we’re seeing pretty much all our athletes playing both football and rugby,” begins South Delta senior boys head coach Spencer Baines, whose team went from unranked to No. 3 in the course of one week following an upset victory last Tuesday over former No. 2 Robert Bateman of Abbotsford. “They are totally buying into what we’ve been trying to build over the last couple of years.”
Baines, 30, along with older brother Matthew Baines, 35 and the head coach of the Sun Devils’ junior varsity team, are a pair of graduates from Richmond’s Hugh McRoberts Secondary who are both now teachers at the Tsawwassen school.
Over a fairly short window, the brothers have accomplished the incredibly difficult task of creating a high-level culture for a sport which, in the past, has not been a provincial title contender at the school.
“It is very challenging, particular here in the Fraser Valley because we have Grade 8, junior and senior all in the spring,” continues Baines. “So just getting coaches within the school to get kids out and hooked is the biggest challenge.”
Baines, however, knows the pull that rugby can have with youth once exposed.
“Nine out of 10 will end up loving the sport,” he says confidently.
TWO KINDS OF TACKLING
Take a poll of B.C. high schools whose athletic departments have a clear intent to field competitive football and rugby programs and you discover that there is not always the best level of co-operation between the two.
Ask Baines about the football-rugby relationship at South Delta, however, and it is clear that the benefits of the multi-sport model outshine any pettiness that can develop should each sport attempt to gain a hold over its athletes for the entire school year.
“I think all I can speak on there is that I personally, encourage them to do what they want to do,” he begins of a 2018 roster that includes the likes of football standouts Andrew Kraft and Jacob Kirk, who man the respective flanker and outside centre roles on the rugby team.
“What they enjoy has to come first, but I also think that it’s super important that they play more than one sport. And (football and rugby) really compliment each other.”
Some of the team’s other talent includes the likes of flanker Caleb Van Til, hooker Dimitri Goulos and No 5 Cole Howes.
PLAYING FOR NIALL
One week ago today, on its home field, a match against the Robert Bateman Timberwolves of Abbotsford is just minutes old when play halts and reveals South Delta Grade 11 standout Niall Cummins down on the field with an injury.
For well over an hour, the game is stopped.
First a fire engine arrives, and later an ambulance is driven right onto the playing field, eventually transporting the talented fly half to an area hospital.
The extent of the injury?
Cummins broke the fibula in one leg, and tore the ACL in the knee of his other leg.
“How do you go out and play after seeing your good friend in that kind of pain?” asked Baines afterwards. “Somehow our guys came together and said ‘Let’s do this for Niall.’ They played their hearts out. I think they showed what the embodiment of rugby is all about. The brotherhood. The camaraderie.”
South Delta, unranked at the time, went on to win the game 22-7 against a very talented Bateman team, one which was ranked at No. 2 but dropped to No. 4 this week.
And with the rest of the season dedicated to their fallen teammate, the Sun Devils look like they have the stuff to make an even deeper challenge for a provincial title at the AAA level.
Of course all of this success is so new to the program, that when asked for points of pride in the history of South Delta Sun Devils rugby, Baines is a little tongue-tied.
“I might have to do some research there,” he begins with a laugh. “This is only my fourth year at the school. Matthew and I, we’ve just been trying to get the program to where it is now, and the goal going forward is to become a provincial contender at junior and senior, and to get as many kids playing as possible.
“I love the sport,” he adds, “and I love what it gives kids in high school.”
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