CALGARY – The BC Blues scored four first-half tries, building a 31-point lead, before hanging on against a hard-charging Ontario side for a 34-31 win in Round 3 of the Canadian Rugby Championship Wednesday at Calgary Rugby Park.
In a preview of the championship match on Saturday, it was a tale of two entirely different halves, with the Bears dominating the first 40 minutes, before the Blues responded with an impressive second half that saw them outscore BC 31-3.
For a moment, it looked like the Blues had pulled off a stunning comeback, with Ontario’s Andrew Coe touching down at the death, but the play was called back on a forward pass and the Bears earned their first win over the Blues in five years.
While the BC win was something of a statement victory, the contest was a battle of the backups, with both teams resting many of their starters in anticipation of Saturday’s final. With each team winning their first two matches, both teams entered Wednesday’s game having already secured a spot in the title tilt.
Ontario and BC will meet again Aug. 19 (9pm ET/6pm PT) for the MacTier Cup at Calgary Rugby Park.
“It’s difficult when you know you’re going to play them in a few days and do it all over again,” said Phil Mack, who is the Bears assistant coach and scrumhalf. “I thought we had a pretty good mindset going into it, but I guess it was a game of two halves. But right now, we’re 3-0 and BC hasn’t been in that position for a while and we’re going to enjoy the win tonight.”
Aaron McLelland led BC with two tries, while Mack and Craig McLaughlin also touched down for the Bears.
Marcello Wainwright and Andrew Wilson each scored twice for Ontario, while the Blues Dan Moor also found the try line.
Guisseppe Du Toit, who finished the game with 14 points, opened the scoring in the fifth minute, slotting a penalty to put BC up early on.
With momentum on their side, the try-scoring began for BC five minutes later when McLelland touched down. With du Toit knocking through the convert, the BC side was up 10-0.
The speedy McLelland scored again in the 16th minute, slipping through the Blues defence and racing around the outside for his second try of the afternoon.
The Blues found themselves in the sin bin midway through the first half, with both Moor (24th) and Mike Sheppard (31st minute) seeing yellow cards. BC took advantage, scoring twice before halftime, with Mack and McLaughlin both touching down and du Toit converting both.
Ontario’s Wainwright came out of the break with a purpose, scoring twice before the second half was 10 minutes old and, with a pair of conversions from Andrew Ferguson, the Blues closed the gap to 31-14.
The Blues offensive charge continued in the 62nd minute, with Wainwright sending Moor down flank with a beautiful offload, before the Ontario winger finished the job, getting his team within 12 points.
With a comeback attempt on the table, the Blues Wilson earned Ontario its fourth try of the half and after a Ferguson convert, the scoreline was just a five-point difference.
A du Toit penalty expanded the Bears lead to eight points and that would prove to be the difference in the contest. Wilson scored again just a few minutes before the full-time whistle, getting Ontario within three points, which set up a wild finish.
“There are a lot of the guys on the BC team that have been at this for a while and Ontario has obviously been a pretty strong team over the past decade or so,” Mack said. “To get that win means a lot to the guys, but at the end of the day, we need to get the big win in a few days, so that’s our focus now.”
The Blues have won five of the last six Canadian championships, while BC’s last title was in 2009.
Canadian Rugby Championship Schedule
July 14 – BC Bears 43 Prairie Wolf Pack 0
July 22 – Ontario Blues 24 Atlantic Rock 17
August 13 – Ontario Blues 45 Prairie Wolf Pack 22
August 13 – BC Bears 20 Atlantic Rock 13
August 16 – BC Bears 34 Ontario Blues 31
August 16 – Atlantic Rock vs. Prairie Wolf Pack – 9pm ET/6pm PT
August 19 – 3rd Place Match – 7pm ET/4pm PT
August 19 – Championship Game – 9pm ET/6pm PT
Canadian Rugby Championship – Rosters
1. Pat Lynott, Bytown Blues
2. Andrew Quattrin, Aurora Barbarians
3. Ryan Surgenor, Bytown Blues
4. Paul Ciulini, Aurora Barbarians
5. Mike Sheppard, Stoney Creek Camels
6. Marcello Wainwright, Toronto Saracens
7. Peter Milazzo, Toronto Saracens (captain)
8. Seb Pearson, London St. Georges
9. Mario Van Der Westhuizen, Guelph Redcoats
10. Mitch Richardson, Stoney Creek Camels
11. Dan Moor, Balmy Beach
12. Kyle Lagasca, Toronto Saracens
13. Andrew Coe, Markham Irish
14. Brandon McLeod, Aurora Barbarians
15. John Sheridan, Markham Irish
16. Eric Howard, Brantford Harlequins
17. Rob Brouwer, Lindsay RFC
18. Tom Dolezel, London St. Georges
19. Lucas Rumball, Balmy Beach
20. Andrew Wilson, Crusaders
21. Andrew Ferguson, Crusaders
22. Josh Campbell, London St. Georges
23. Kainoa Lloyd, Mississauga Blues
Chris Silverthorn - Head Coach
Cory Hector - Assistant Coach
Mark Winokur - Team Manager
Chris Kelly - Athletic Therapist
Rodin Lozada - Video Analyst
Dr. Chris Gallimore - Team Doctor
1. Blake Van Heyningen , James Bay AA
2. Paul Ahn, UBC Thunderbirds RFC
3. Noah Barker, James Bay AA
4. Craig McLaughlin, Burnaby Lake RFC
5. Shea Wakefield, James Bay AA
6. Tua Va'a, Westshore RFC
7. Kevin Leask, UVIC Vikes RFC
8. Travis Larsen, James Bay AA
9. Phil Mack, James Bay AA
10. Guisseppe du Toit, UVIC Vikes RFC
11. Karsten Leitner, UBC Thunderbirds RFC
12. Mike Nieuwenhuysen, James Bay AA
13. Doug Fraser, Castaway Wanderers RFC
14. Reid Watkins, Foothills Lions RFC
15. Aaron McLelland, UBCOB Ravens RFC
16. Andrew Lackner, Burnaby Lake RFC
17. Anthony Luca, Burnaby Lake RFC
18. Neil Courtney, UBC Thunderbirds RFC
19. Cam Polson, Castaway Wanderers RFC
20. Jordan Reid-Harvey, Capilano RFC
21. Gavin Rowell, UVIC Vikes RFC
22. Riley DiNardo, Castaway Wanderers RFC
23. Harjun Gill, UBCOB Ravens RFC
24. Dustin Dobravsky, Castaway Wanderers RFC
25. Kimi Vunituraga, Burnaby Lake RFC
26. Connor Weyell, UBC Thunderbirds RFC
Tony Healy - Head Coach
Phil Mack - Assistant Coach
Des Lynch - Manager/Mental Skills Coach
Canadian Rugby Championship – Past Champions
2016 - Ontario Blues
2015 - Prairie Wolf Pack
2014 - Ontario Blues
2013 - Ontario Blues
2012 - Ontario Blues
2011 - Ontario Blues
2010 - Atlantic Rock
2009 - BC Bears