Monday, August 15, 2011 - Submitted by Patrick McCarry in Vancouver, BC
British Columbia survived a second-half onslaught by the Prairie Wolf Pack as they held out 31-29 to go top of the Canadian Rugby Championship. BC were in scintillating form in the first 40 minutes and scored four tries to power to a 24-5 lead at the break. The visiting Wolf Pack side struck back with four tries in the second half and could have snatched a comeback win if it were not for poor goal kicking and by turning over the ball within five yards on three occasions.
Played in front of an appreciative and vocal crowd at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl, BC gave their fans plenty to cheer about early on. The home side have struggled at the line-out while the Wolf Pack have been ineffectual at the scrum and both sides were true to form in the opening exchanges. BC hooker Edvin Sabic found his radar as the afternoon wore on and will have done his chances for further inclusion no harm. Prairie turned to centre Nick Blevins for their early incisions but the home side were ferocious in defence.
Connor Braid made up for a penalty miss when he scored after 10 minutes. Josefa Dolesau scythed through the Wolf Pack covering tackles out wide and offloaded in the tackle for Braid to open the scoring and follow up with a conversion. The BC number 12 was using his huge boot to test out the covering defence and handling skills of Brennan Marcoux and the Pack full-back turned the tactic on its head when he sprinted 50 yards and fed Duncan Maguire but the ball was lost in the home side’s 22. Josh Clarke was being fed with a lot of possession by BC captain Eric Wilson and the flanker was impressive with his crash-ball skills.
On the 26th minute the crowd were on their feet for another outstanding piece of rugby skill from Dolesau. BC enjoyed four minutes of pressure and recycled the ball effectively before Wilson fed the ball wide. Dolesau took a pass on the run and held the ball high before dipping under the tackle of Blevins to touch down. It was an instant replay moment and one of the highlights of the season. The Burnaby Lake winger was not finished yet and, on 30 minutes, made a 60 yard dash with the ball tucked under his right arm. He was perprtual motion itself as he evaded three tackles and turned on the afterburners to outpace Marcoux to the line.
With five minutes to go to half-time, the Wolf Pack put themselves in further trouble as their flanker, John Anderson, screwed an attempted clearance to touch. His teammates compounded the error by allowing the kick to bounce uncontested and Clarke was there to pick up and sprint to the corner – making it 24-0. With the clock winding down, Ian Shoults shouldered the responsibility for a comeback and burst through the BC defence to set up Duncan Maguire for a much-needed try.
Wolf Pack head coach Col Jeffs was holding out hope for an early score in the second-half and he was not disappointed as Nick Blevins made a 40 yard break to get his side in scoring position. Blevins was held up just short of the line but had support in the shape of scrum-half James Buchanan, who crossed over. Mozac Samson converted and it was 24-12. Any thoughts of a comeback were stymied when BC converted what their head coach Kris de Scossa called ‘a move straight off the paddock’. With the BC forwards going through the phases, the backs lined up on the right wing until the last moment when three broke left to outnumber the Prairie defence. Sean Ferguson dived full length to finish the sweeping move off with a try.
The Wolf Pack spent 10 minutes, from the 50th to 60th minutes, getting close to a comeback score but spillages and turnovers held back their progress. Mozac Samson and Shoults were at the forefront but BC held firm. The Pack scrum forced a penalty soon after but the momentum was shattered again when BC stole the ball for Braid to hoof clear. The missed chances looked like ending the game as a contest but Shoults was not finished and he scored a try after 71 minutes that was all down to his perseverance. The winger rode three tackles and reached the line before being briefly held-up. Support arrived in time and Shoults touched down.
Samson was not having a great day with the boot but another darting break got him in behind the first line of BC defenders. He made for the corner and fed Maguire, who did the rest and crossed the whitewash. There was 78th minutes on the clock and Wolf Pack were not finished. With the clock ticking over 80 minutes the Wolf Pack did not let up and John Schlebach crashed over to score under the posts. Samson converted and the final whistle blew with the score 31-29. Dolesau pipped his teammate Clarke and Prairie’s Shoults for the man of the match and BC held on for a win that puts them in first place in the CRC.
Wolf Pack’s Jeffs said, “At halt time it looked like there was no way back but the guys showed a lot of character to come back and push BC all the way. We couldn’t exert too much pressure on their scrum but ours stood up well when you compare it to our first two matches.” He added, “I was delighted with the performance of (Ian) Shoults and Duncan Maguire. He is electric – give him the ball and an inch of space and he can do some serious damage.” Jeffs was disappointed not to come away with the comeback win but believes the positive showing and securing two bonus points was an acceptable achievement.
BC’s head coach Kris de Scossa said, “I don’t feel that our performance fell off. We encouraged our youth to play and develop. They got a chance to see what it is like to play at a reasonably high level.” He added, “I’m delighted with the result as we played very well against a Wolf Pack team that were finalists last year and that have a great coach.” Speaking about the performances of Dolesau and Clarke, de Scossa said, “Jo is an instinctive player. He can do damage from a standing start or hit 100 miles an hour within three metres. Josh’s play is all down to hard wok and dedication. With all humility, Josh apologised to me at the end of the game because he felt that he did not play at 100% today.”
De Scossa added, “We are still the underdogs for next weeks’ (return) game against the Wolf Pack. They have a wider pitch up in Calgary so we intend to go wide from the start.”