VANCOUVER — The St. George’s Saints left no stone unturned in the season-long run-up to the week that matters most to every high school rugby program in B.C.
Coming into Thursday’s showcase top-tiered New Zealand Shield Lower Mainland championship final, the Vancouver all-boys school had but one in-province blemish on an otherwise spotless 2019 resume.
We’re referring, of course, to the 22-19 loss absorbed by Saints back on April 24 when the host Carson Graham Eagles booted a last-minute penalty to edge St. George’s at its own Klahanie Park fortress in North Vancouver.
On Thursday, as the schematics of that past match were dissected to beget new game plans for both teams, St. George’s proved the better bunch on the day, consistently finding the appropriate response against the physical and dynamic Eagles.
After Carson Graham’s Logan Weidner scored a try with seven minutes remaining to pull Carson Graham within 20-10, the response of the Saints proved conclusively that they were in full command of their powers.
St. George’s closed the match with back-to-back rapid fire scores from Connor Palmer and then Thomas Kirkwood, with the latter converting both tries to make the 34-10 final complete.
By Thursday night, the Saints and Eagles learned they would once again face each other, this time as the respective Nos. 2-3 seeds in the B.C. Quad A semifinals on Wednesday at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium.
No. 1-seeded Shawnigan Lake Stags tackle No. 4 Oak Bay Barbs in the other semifinal, one which reprises the B.C. title match won last season by Oak Bay.
Back under sunny skies Thursday at Brockton Oval, St. George’s marched down the field and took the early lead off a Kirkwood penalty.
After that however, for the majority of the half, Carson Graham owned an edge in play.
Ethan Smith, sure-footed with his match-winning kick against Saints back in April, evened the game at 3-3 with a penalty for the Eagles.
St. George’s Jacob Bourne, however, was able to score just before the half, giving the Saints an 8-5 lead at intermission.
A reinvigorated Saints’ side turned the tide to start the second half, and tries by Matteo Mitchell and later substitute Ao Ma gave them what amounted to a stranglehold on the match at 20-5.
“The first 25 minutes Carson Graham took everything to us and we didn’t know what to do,” admitted Saints’ head coach Mike Stiles. “We were frazzled but we weathered the storm and played our game.”
They did just that through their composure and their discipline on defence.
“Different year, same old story,” Carson Graham head coach Glen McKinnon said, referencing Saints’ New Zealand Shield win over the Eagles on the same Brockton pitch a full year ago. “We always think we’re pretty close coming into this game against these guys and they always seem to be a little better on the day. All the credit to them.”
What was it about the match that McKinnon saw as key in the final outcome?
“Just ball on the ground, ball in contact kind of stuff, I think that is where they kind of won the day,” he said. “They were all over the ball, they were all over our rucks and we just couldn’t move them. They slowed our ball down and that is how we got them during the season. So they did a good job. They recognized that and they had a game plan to stop us.”
Carson’s line-up provided breathtaking plays featuring both their speed and power courtesy of Austin James and Iain McTavish.
Saints got fearless defensive play from its lock Tate Litherland, while Kirkwood and Dillon Hamilton both highlighted among the backs.
Provincial seedings and matchups were also announced by the BCSSRU for Triple-A’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 brackets.
No. 1 Earl Marriott vs. No. 8 Handsworth
No. 2 Yale vs. No. 7 Claremont
No. 3 R.E. Mountain vs. No. 6 Robert Bateman
No. 4 South Delta vs. No. 5 Kelowna
No. 1 West Vancouver vs. No. 8 Belmont
No. 2 Lord Byng vs. No. 7 G.P. Vanier
No. 3 Abbotsford vs. No. 6 Cowichan
No. 4 Nanaimo District vs. No. 5 R.A. McMath
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