Connor Braid scored 20 points against The Rock but was left crestfallen at the final whistle after missing his last three kicks at goal as British Columbia lost 31-30.
The pulsating Canadian Rugby Championship game in Newfoundland went right down to the wire but the home side held out for a win to keep their slim title hopes alive. Dean Blanks contributed 16 points from the boot for The Rock, but there were many phases of exciting, attacking play throughout.
Braid was razor-sharp all day and The Rock struggled to contain him. He scored then converted two blistering first-half tries, but his kicking radar faded in the latter stages and he missed a penalty kick – striking the uprights – in the last play of the game.
The fervent home supporters at Swilers Rugby Complex will take some satisfaction at Braid’s misfortune as they were boisterous until the final whistle blew.
Ultimately, the defeat means B.C.’s season ends in disappointment, but their head coach, Kris de Scossa was quick not to focus on the final penalty. He said, “You have to remember that the last kick never wins or loses a match, it's the 20 minutes before that can determine the outcome of a game. We had several opportunities to score which we didn't convert into points.”
On a perfect day for rugby, Rock fly-half Blanks kicked two penalties in the opening 10 minutes before Braid slotted one to make it 6-3. Both sides were looking for tries in hopes of staying in the race for the CRC and the home fans were celebrating a five-pointer after 15 minutes when Kevin Parfrey dove over the whitewash.
B.C struck back within four minutes following a patient build-up and crisp passing. Braid burst through and scored his side’s first try. His successful conversion made it 13-10.
The Rock were in a determined mood and swarmed downfield thanks to a string of ball-carries and ferocious mauls. Their positive play was rewarded when Zac Coughlan, described by Rock manager Rick Graham as ‘a real up and comer’, powered through the covering defence for a try. Blanks converted and slotted a penalty soon after to make it 23-10.
Having already defeated The Rock this season, there was no lack of belief in the B.C. side and Braid’s fine try just before half-time epitomised that. He timed his supporting run to perfection, outpaced Rock defenders and galloped home for his second try. He added the extras but Blanks had time to score one more penalty and it was 26-17 at the break.
B.C. were looking for a bright start to the second-half, but their opening surge was dented when Rock scrum-half Mike Simpson picked off a pass to run half the field for an intercept try. The score buoyed The Rock, but B.C. held firm until the final quarter and started to chip away at the deficit.
Braid kicked a penalty and the B.C. pack turned up its intensity in the scrum – winning a crucial ball and forcing errors from their opponents. The comeback was made concrete when Conrad Rybkowski sprinted down the wing and forced his way over in the corner to make it 31-25.
His wing colleague Shawn Mercier sniped in between some covering tackles to dive over and make it 31-30. Braid did not land the conversion but more agony was to follow as his last penalty kick rebounded off the posts.
De Scossa commented, “We took on a vastly more experienced team with Canadian internationals like Phil Mack and Rod Snow and only lost by one point. Look at our front row who played so well that The Rock were opting for lineouts over scrums. It was great to see players like Connor [Braid] and Conrad [Rybkowski] who sliced their defence with some amazing runs. We didn't get the result we were after today but we have achieved our measures of success by playing some great rugby.”
Rick Graham said, “We snuck through at the end and we are going to Toronto (to play Ontario Blues) on a high. B.C. to their credit, came on strong in the second half but our defence held firm. Our boys played really well and it was a hugely exciting game to watch.”
Graham praised the contributions of Coughlan, Blanks and second-half replacement Kyle Baillie who he said had ‘a brilliant second half’. He added, “Special mention has to go to Steve ‘Cutter’ Cutcliffe who was voted as Man-of-the-match by B.C. It was his first start of the year today and he put in a stellar performance.”
British Columbia: 30
Tries: Connor Braid x2, Conrad Rybkowski, Shawn Mercier
Conversions: Connor Braid x2
Penalties: Connor Braid x2
Tries: Kevin Parfrey, Zac Coughlan, Mike Simpson
Conversions: Dean Blanks x2
Penalties: Dean Blanks x4