ABBOTSFORD — There is a faded banner hanging at East Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary signifying a B.C. high school rugby championships from the mid-1960’s.
It’s old enough that the program at these 2019 BCSSRU high school championships doesn’t quite reach far back enough to list it.
That, in and of itself, was enough to suggest that Tupper’s Tiger Nation was experiencing the thrill of winning a B.C. senior varsity high school sports title for the first time in a very, very long time.
George Miller, missing from the line-up for over a month after suffering a collarbone injury, scored a pair of tries for the winners, including a stunning burst down the wing with two minutes remaining, turning a 12-10 squeaker against Burnaby’s expansion Byrne Creek Bulldogs into a 19-10 celebration.
“This was my first game back, so to be able come in and score that last try felt so good,” said Miller who had flashed similar speed to cross the line seven minutes into the game for a 5-0 Tupper lead. “It was insane.”
Many might have thought it insane to even contemplate Byrne Creek making it to a provincial final in its first-ever season of rugby, yet the Bulldogs were right there to win it before Miller’s burst took all of the air out of their balloon.
Following Miller’s opening try, Byrne’s Darius Morrison booted a penalty goal to make it 5-3.
Tupper, however, scored on the final play of the first half when Kiya Vivier-Miller broke three tackles on a 25-yard run across the line before booting his own conversion for a 12-3 advantage at break.
Byrne Creek, however, got to within 12-10 with 23 minutes remaining on a try by Shafiq Zikria, again converted by Morrison.
The Bulldogs were pugnacious and got a late sniff deep, yet their youthful exuberance got the better of them.
“It kind of typifies our season,” Byrne Creek head coach Moreno Stefanon said. “We pushed and we pushed and we pushed and in the end, it’s a little bit of inexperience. We got right down to the goal line, we saw it and got a bit of goal-line fever. Our boys tried to pick it and go, and the experience, if you have it, would say just be patient. Draw a penalty and kick for three and nurse the lead home. But Tupper has been in the same position before, and they have earned it. They have taken their bumps, and they have taken their bruises and they are a good team.”
“To be honest, I told the boys that I don’t have any words to describe this,” said Tupper coach Joe Lee. “It’s massive. We have always told our kids that yeah, we play against Rockridge and Collingwood, and week in, week out, you take your lumps. So it’s hard sometimes to convince them that outside of our division, we’re actually not that bad. The proof today is that we are actually OK.”
That and more.
“We have had an unbelievable amount of injuries this year and so this really represents the full team effort,” said Tigers’ coach Auton Lum. “For our program and for an Eastside school to win a provincial championship means so much to the pride of the boys who have been going through it for the last five years.”
Added Lee: “That has been our goal each year to get here, and win a game. One game. But this year we won two so finally I said ‘We have never won three so let’s do that’ and the boys responded.”
Vivier-Miller, the Tigers’ standout stand-off admitted a distinct lack of creature comforts at Tupper’s East Van headquarters actually wound up helping them get ready for the biggest game in school history.
“It just took a lot of grinding, grinding in the cold, grinding in the snow,” Vivier-Miller said. “We’ve got a terrible field. It’s always muddy. But we worked through all of that and it brought us all together. Today we came out in the sunshine and we just played our game.”
Stefanon knows there is plenty of work for his program and he says next season will be telling.
“The buy-in has been huge and a lot of people at the beginning said we were going to have a hard time having a team,” Stefanon said. “It’s been nice to see the kids stick with something and commit.
“There’s something about a contact game where you really have to put your body on the line,” he added. “Year two is going to be the telling point. Now, it’s all about avoiding the dip.”
With Lord Byng winning the Triple A Tier 2 title earlier in the day, Tupper’s Lum was hopeful a rugby resurgence could begin in Vancouver public schools.
“I really hope so and that there are so many more programs starting up from this,” he said. “It would be great to get back to having a lot of strong teams liked we used to in Vancouver.”
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