After 80 minutes of tough, wet weather rugby, The Rock have won the inaugural Canadian Rugby Championship’s MacTier Cup.
Hosting the championship game at Swilers Rugby Complex in St. John’s, Newfoundland, The Rock claimed a 19-8 win over the Prairie Wolf Pack on Saturday.
After a quiet first half on the scoreboard, The Rock were led by strong defence and the accurate boot of Ciaran Hearn in the second half to run away with the result.
However, indicative of their comparable abilities, The Rock and the Wolf Pack were locked at 0-0 at half time.
For Rock coach Pat Parfrey - this fourth title is likely his most precious he says, because of the journey the team took to win it.
"This one is more pleasurable because the competition structure is so different (this year)," he said after the game. "I never thought we would be strong enough to beat BC and Ontario with all their players so for us to win this fourth one is probably the best."
He also spoke of the strong family bond on the team - that has seen a large part of the team stay in tact through the last five years.
"Thirteen of the twenty-two played between 2005 and 2006 - and have been part of the team ever since," he said proudly. "They have been friends for a long time and it is a friendship that is going to be long lasting."
The hero of the final pool game that saw the Rock win home field advantage for the championship match, No. 8 Ken Goodland, said while it was a different game to the previous encounter it was a hard day at the office.
"It was a tough game and we knew it was going to be like that," said Goodland. "We had to wait until the second half to really break it out.
"It's happy days right now but it was really a tough go."
Goodland said coming into the half-time break even at 0-0 was a good result for the team with such a strong wind in their face.
"We felt we played more of the rugby at the half - stayed on task and doing what we were doing," the veteran back rower said. "When we had the wind in the second half we went down into that corner and that played to our advantage."
Wolf Pack scrum-half James Buchanan admitted that the home team perhaps adapted a bit better to the sloppy conditions on the day.
"Tough conditions always favour them and they played the conditions well," said the Calgary based player. "It was a good kicking game for both teams. When they played it tight they produced their own ball."
While both teams gained some advantages during the half, the biggest gain from the first 40 minutes was that The Rock survived running into a strong wind against the Wolf Pack.
In addition to the wind, while it wasn’t raining during the first half, the field had received a healthy dose of rain and the wet conditions forced plenty of handling errors.
The first big opportunity for either side came about midway through the half, when the Wolf Pack’s Stephen Woodward threw a cutout pass to centre Nick Blevins, putting him into space for a big run.
Blevins made about 40 metres but was stopped by Rock winger Hearn, who made a try-saving tackle.
The Rock were the next to have a shot at opening the scoring, when Dean Blanks had a shot at goal after the Pack were called offside just outside their own 22-metre line.
Unfortunately for The Rock, the field conditions meant Blanks slipped during the kick and missed the attempt.
Both teams looked to take advantage of some counter-attacking opportunities, but the fluidity of both teams was upset by handling errors due to the wet conditions.
The Rock replaced starting scrum half Rich O’Malley with veteran international Morgan Williams just before the end of the first half but the added experience wasn’t enough to change the score, or the back-and-forth nature of the game.
The second half started similarly to the first, with both teams vying for any advantage, but the evenly matched nature of the sides kept most advances at bay.
The Wolf Pack’s scrum half, fly half combination of James Buchanan and Woodward tried their hardest to probe, but The Rock’s defence was more than up to the task.
The Rock opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a penalty goal by Hearn, who went on to kick a further three penalty goals in the second half.
The biggest sign that the Pack were starting to crack, however, was when Rock fly half Dean Blanks poked a kick through inside the Pack’s 22-metre line and The Rock’s Geoff Warden was able to pounce on it in the in-goal area for the first try of the game.
Following the converted try and their four successful penalty attempts in the second, The Rock led 19-3 with little time left on the clock when the Wolf Pack showed they wouldn’t give up until the final whistle.
The Pack stringed together phase after phase in The Rock’s half, forcing the defense onto the back foot and forcing several infractions from The Rock, allowing the Pack to march even further down the field.
Eventually, The Rock defenses broke when Woodward offloaded an inside ball to Blevins who broke over the line to score his team’s only try.
Ciaran Hearn - who had 12 points on four penalty kicks on the day, said it was great to have such an important game played on home soil.
"It's always good to get home and play in front of friends and family," the speedy winger said. "This was a fantastic day for me and our team."
While the inaugural CRC season has come to an end, several members of the four domestic squads have been selected to play for a Canada development side to travel to the Americas Rugby Championship tournament in Argentina next month.
Attendance - 2500.
Referee - Dave Smortchevsky.
Assistant Referee - Derek Stoltz, Andrew McMaster.