After a weeks-long layoff for the holidays – and to avoid the harshest winter weather – the Bayside Sharks men’s rugby teams are set to return to the pitch at South Surrey Athletic Park this weekend.
And they won’t exactly be able to ease back into action gently, considering their schedule for the second half of the BC Rugby Div. 1 season is chock full of tough opponents – starting Saturday when they battle the Vancouver Rowing Club.
The Rowers (6-3-0 win-loss-draw) are currently in second-place in the first division – Bayside is right below them, in third with a record of 8-2-2 – and they enter the second half of the season on something of a high, after closing out the fall schedule with a convincing win over the first-place Surrey Beavers.
“This is a real good test for us, and in some ways it’s probably good for us to start off this way because it’s a real sink-or-swim situation,” said Bayside’s director of rugby Andy Blackburn.
“Even though they aren’t right at the top of the standings, they’re probably the form team now in the league. And to be fair, I think we’re one of the form teams, too.”
Blackburn’s bunch will have to get used to the tough Vancouver crew – the team plays the Rowers three times in the second half. They also play the Beavers once.
“It’s a real tough test, the way the schedule has been made… we have half our schedule against the top two teams,” he said.
“But we really need to be playing tough games as we head into the playoffs anyway – there’s no point playing the three weakest teams and then have to face a really good team in the (first round of) playoffs.”
This Saturday’s games are scheduled earlier than usual, with the team eschewing it’s traditional mid-afternoon kickoff in order to accommodate players wanting to take in the Canada-Uruguay Rugby World Cup qualifying match, set for BC Place later that day. The second division sides will hit the pitch at 11 a.m., while the first-division players will square off at 12:45 p.m.
And while Saturday’s tilt will be the first of 2018 for most of the Sharks’ first-division players, the second-division squad – as well as some players who are returning after having not played in the fall – did get plenty of game action a week ago, in a make-up game against Abbotsford. The contest had originally been scheduled for mid-December but was postponed.
Abby fielded a team made up of both Div. 1 and 2 players, while the Sharks’ played its second-division squad and a few returnees looking to shake off some rust. And though Abbotsford won the game 35-22, Blackburn and second-division coach Jared Howes were happy with the result.
“The game was in the balance until the final five minutes and it could have gone either way. They scored in the last couple minutes but it was a really competitive, entertaining game,” Blackburn said. “We scored four tries and got the bonus point, and they scored four tries and got a bonus point. They made three penalty kicks and (three) conversions, and that was the difference.
“(Howes) said to me after that it didn’t feel like we’d lost… there were just so many positives – we played a great brand of rugby, and all our second-team guys got valuable game time. Aside from the result, it was a win in every way.”
Moving forward, Blackburn said the key to success for his group will be to “vary up our attack” offensively, while also limiting penalties, which historically have been an issue for the team.
And though they won’t be in action – or even in the country – in time for Saturday’s game against the Rowers, Bayside’s first-division side will soon be buoyed by the addition of a handful of international players. Four players from Australia, “plus a couple more” from Fiji are expected to join the team at some point in the second half, Blackburn said.
“Coming here in February, they’re going to go from 40 Celsius where they are, to 40 Fahrenheit… the Fijians are going to like it,” he laughed.