Behind the stellar play of Landon Clironomos, Vancouver's Lord Byng Grey Ghosts won their first B.C. senior boys varsity rugby tile in precisely 20 years. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Rugby

It was 20 years ago this week! Lord Byng coach Mallette relishes “…a precious opportunity” as Grey Ghosts snap a two decade title drought

ABBOTSFORD — Mike Mallette didn’t need to be reminded that a signature moment had just arrived in his life, and in the lives of the Lord Byng Grey Ghosts rugby program, one which he has made his life’s work.

It was back in 1999 that Vancouver’s Grey Ghosts last won a B.C. senior boys varsity rugby title.

And while those who know Mallette well will tell you that he’s not the type to keep count of personal accomplishments, it turns out he was quietly keeping track of one very significant program milestone.

“To have the opportunity to come back 20 years, almost to the exact date (of the last B.C. win) makes it so meaningful,” Mallette said after a 34-12 win over the West Vancouver Highlanders gave Byng the B.C. Triple-A Tier 2 B.C. title, the program’s first boys senior varsity provincial rugby crown since 1999.

“But to realize how precious the opportunity is, and then to come out as a champion against a very good opponent is just unbelievable,” added Mallette, 52, the ex-UBC varsity player who has taught and coached at Lord Byng since 1991.

Now 28 years into a rugby coaching/teaching career at Lord Byng, Mike Mallette led the Grey Ghosts to a B.C. title on Saturday. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Leading the Ghosts to the win was none other than its standout senior No. 10 Landon Clironomos, whose blend of power, agility and leadership proved lethal.

Less than two minutes into the game, Clironomos crossed the goal line then booted his own convert for a 7-0 lead.

Although West Vancouver’s No. 8 Cole Roberts scored to pull his Highlanders within 7-5 soon after, it was Byng’s ability to mount expansive play through the midfield which led to two more tries and a 21-5 lead.

Sam Cochrane was wide open for a run up the gut off a line-out, and later, the dynamic Felipe Salazar added another. Both were converted by Clironomos.

Highlanders’ Matt Lane was able to add a try off a long run just under five minutes before the half and Ben Welsh’s convert made it 21-12 at the intermission.

“Remember I told you that if we keep No. 10 Landon in check and we tackle in the midfield we’d be fine?” reminded West Vancouver head coach Paul Welsh. “Wel, we didn’t tackle in the midfield and we didn’t keep Landon in check. Outside of that, it was pretty even.”

Clironomos, perhaps the single most valuable player to his team then any in B.C. high school rugby this season, came out and booted penalty goal to open the second half for a 24-12 lead.

Seth Hastings scored a try to extend the lead to 29-12, setting the stage for Salazar’s second five-pointer of the contest, this one coming off a blazing 60-metre run.

“Our game plan was to focus on their player Ben Welsh who is an outstanding talent and runs their show,” said Mallette, who coaches the Ghosts with Ian MacPhee. “We also had to make sure we made adjustments from the last time we played them. We had a lot of bench depth and so when I made four subs at the start of the second half, that was the difference. It really got us moving forward.”

Added Clironomos of the anniversary significance of the win: “It’s all Mr. Mallette talks about, that 1999 team, and as a team it’s what he wants us all to aspire to. His motivation really helped us get here today.”

Byng’s Phillipe Salazar was hard to tackle, scoring two tries in the B.C. AAA Tier 2 final. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

The game was called with 3:53 remaining following an injury to a West Vancouver player.

West Van’s coach Welsh said the Highlanders’ program has taken some great forward strides over the past four season under a new philosophy.

“We call it PACE and it stands for preparation, accountability, commitment and enjoyment,” Welsh said. “This group exhibited it and we have 125 boys and girls involved in the sport at our school. I hope we’re on the right track because it’s a great game for high school kids.”

Mallette couldn’t help but reflect on how his own list of priorities has changed over the years since he learned the game as a youth growing up in Trail where he graduated from J.L. Crowe Secondary in 1985.

“Through the 1990s we were an incredibly strong rugby program at Byng, always top four or five in the province,” he began. “Then we had to work our way back. For me, as a young, developing coach I was only used to seeing things from one perspective and that was from the top on down.

“But when we had to work our way back as a program, we spent a number of years on the wrong end of the stick, and when you don’t get to the B.C.’s every year, it changes your view of what it means to be successful, about how precious this opportunity is.”

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