ABBOTSFORD — Jeff Williams hammered the point home in the victory celebration.
“It was the tackles, tackles, tackles,” the Shawnigan Lake coach said after his team rallied to beat Vancouver’s St. George’s Saints 21-12 in B.C. Quad-A boys championship final at Rotary Stadium, reclaiming top-tiered rugby supremacy for the Stags, who were stunned in last season’s final by Oak Bay after having won the previous three straight crowns and eight of the last 10. “Defence wins championships.”
Yet for so long it looked like the Saints would be able to achieve their breakthrough as the mid-to-late stages of the second half saw them establish a key foothold on the lush enemy turf of Rotary Stadium.
When Saints’ dynamic Thomas Kirkwood closed out the half with break to the corner to score a try he soon converted himself, St. George’s was lead 12-6 and looking like the more explosive team at intermission.
Even when Shawnigan’s Jojo Tanaka Campbell crossed the line early in the second half to pull Stags to within 12-11, the Vancouverites still had a lot of gas left in the tank.
Yet when they needed to score to build a cushion late they were denied by those so-called ‘tackles, tackles, tackles’.
Saints’ powerful Patrick Feng looked like he was going to bull his way through the posts and find the try zone.
Scrum-half Connor Palmer, his talented teammate who had scored just as time expired back on April 26 to give Saints a thrilling 15-13 Stadium Series come-from-behind win over the Stags, appeared he might be ready to do something very similar as he juked and jived his way to the goal line.
But defence, coupled with an untimely Saints’ penalty for a hight tackle seemed to sling-shot momentum back in Shawnigan’s favour in the blink of an eye.
With 6:17 remaining, Jamin Hodgkins stepped up and made that penalty count with a boot that gave the Stags their first lead, at 14-12, since Hodgkins had opened the game with an early first-half penalty goal.
And with that momentum, Shawnigan Lake moved the ball down field, and helped No. 3 Moamen Elhendawi score on a driving line-out at the far corner of the pitch.
Hodgkins, who finished with 11 points on the night, booted the convert that made the nine-point win complete.
“When our captain, Ciaran Breen, got high-tackled and we got three, that got us a little momentum, and then Moamen scored, and those were two key points for us,” agreed Williams.
“Saints are a very good team and this game could have gone either way,” he continued. “They were camping down at our 22 (metre line) for about 10 minutes so we had some luck on our side. Great determination in the tackle helped us get through it, We were under the pump for so long, it’s not an easy thing to do to turn over and then go on attack.”
After Hodgkins’ penalty goal had opened the scoring, Saints’ Dillon Hamilton scored a try to put his team ahead 5-3 with 15 minutes left in the first half. Hodgkins added another penalty for a 6-5 Stags lead.
After failing to capture either the junior varsity or senior varsity boys titles last season, Stags players vividly remember their return to the Vancouver Island boarding school.
And over the course of that journey, you’re correct in assuming some vows were made.
“We were on the bus coming back, we had just lost both games and we decided right then that we were going to make up for it by winning it this year,” said Stags’ Grade 11 outside centre Graeme Norris.
“I think it started with our commitment to defence,” he added. “We trusted each other on the inside and as you can see, we kept the score low.”
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