VICTORIA — In the lead-up to Alumni Saturday and its traditional first XV rugby test on the campus of St. Michaels University School in the provincial capital is tonight’s precursor, the annual Captains’ Dinner.
“We’ll have rugby captains dating back to 1966 in attendance,” said Blue Jags’ veteran head coach Ian Hyde-Lay on Friday morning, setting the stage for the Double A No. 1-ranked team’s Saturday (3:45 p.m.) clash against West Vancouver’s No. 2-ranked Collingwood Cavaliers right on the SMUS campus.
“There is going to be a special-edition jersey for the match,” Hyde-Lay continued, affirming the overall weekend’s importance within the season, “and I can guarantee that we will show a lot more grit than we showed on Tuesday.”
For Hyde-Lay, who has been coaching rugby for 35 years, there was no dodging the elephant in the room.
Three days ago, the Blue Jags headed up island to Mill Bay where they were handed a 58-0 loss at the hands of No. 3-ranked Brentwood College.
And thus Saturday’s game at SMUS, part of the second-round of the B.C. Secondary Schools Rugby Union’s Stadium Series, finds the three-time defending provincial AA champions playing the host role while in desperate search of its own kind of team redemption.
There, are, however, much easier ways to get that accomplished than having to face a deep, veteran-laden Collingwood side which is filled with speed. Back in the opening round of the series on April 7, Collingwood handed Brentwood College a 34-5 defeat.
“From minute one we were off pace and we can’t sugar coat it,” Hyde-Lay said of his team’s loss to Brentwood, the same program SMUS beat three times last season, including 24-14 at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium in the B.C. Tier 1 Double-A final.
“Games like that can happen in a season,” he continued. “They key for us now is how we respond. How tough and resilient are we? We need to get back to the basics, get more clarity in our play. It’s about investigating the areas in which we were deficient and make the corrections.”
Yet whatever winds up happening, there are absolutely no shortage of dramatic scripts in the works as it pertains to the tier’s Nos. 1-3 ranked schools.
For their part, SMUS may not have the depth of last season’s team, nor the singular, game-breaking presence supplied by former inside centre Quinn Ngawati.
Nonetheless, a core of seniors has helped stoke the team’s motor.
Centres Matt Hagkull and Luke Rainier-Pope, and back-row forwards Simon Gilmour and Owen Weismiller, the latter recovering from a shoulder ailment, have all played key roles in the charge to try to win a fourth straight B.C. title.
Saturday’s match with Collingwood brings an intense string of games to a close for SMUS.
Back on April 17, in its annual Rees Boot challenge, the Blue Jags were handled 46-7 by a powerful Oak Bay Barbers side, one which sits in the top four of the Quad A rankings.
After coming to the Lower Mainland to take part in the provincial 7s at St. George’s School, SMUS followed with a 24-7 South Island win over Claremont. Its subsequent loss to Brentwood College was just its second of the season.
“We are going to get about 10-12 days to really heal up and get back to the basics,” said Hyde-Lay of the fact that after Saturday’s match, it plays just once (May 10 vs. Glenlyon-Norfolk) before it faces Oak Bay on May 17 in the Howard Russell Cup, emblematic of the Victoria city final.
After that, it’s off to a neutral site for a rematch with Brentwood College in the Vancouver Island Double A finals on May 23.
The B.C. championships return to Abbotsford May 30-June 2.
“Nobody feels sorry for you and nor should they,” reminds Hyde-Lay. “You have the choice to accept tough defeats, or to try to get better and fix things. Hopefully we decide to take the latter.”
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