Cowichan’s Robby Wright takes on an Alberni defender during the Piggies’ win at home last Saturday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Cowichan Piggies win back-and-forth battle with Sheep

Rugby coach thrust into unfamiliar role as ref

Cowichan Piggies head coach Andrew Wright found himself in an unfamiliar role last Saturday.

When the scheduled referee didn’t show up in time for the 1 p.m. kickoff of Cowichan’s First Division men’s rugby game at home against the Port Alberni Black Sheep, Wright scrounged up a whistle and took it upon himself to enforce the rules.

Having never trained as an official, Wright had to draw upon his years of experience as a player and coach — and the goodwill of the players — to get the job done.

“Everyone was pretty good about it and helped me out,” Wright laughed later.

Fortunately, the score was close at halftime, which was probably the best-case scenario for Wright. At that point, the actual ref showed up, having been informed by the scheduler that kickoff was at 2:30 p.m. Wright’s replacement was the highly qualified Phil Smith, a teacher and coach at Brentwood College School who has officiated at the highest levels of the sport.

“It’s definitely a change for the First Division to have him there,” Wright commented.

Both teams struggled to put full squads on the field on Saturday, but there were enough players to make a competitive game out of it. Cowichan scored the first two tries, and held a 12-7 lead after 15 minutes. The game went back and forth after that, and Cowichan held a slight 26-21 edge at the break.

Unfortunately, since he was distracted by his officiating duties, Wright wasn’t writing down who scored the tries for Cowichan in the first half.

“Our spirits were pretty high at halftime as a team,” the coach said of the halftime assessment. “We knew what we had to do, and we knew they’d be eager to go.”

The match was part of the Times Cup competition, and even though both Cowichan and Port Alberni are out of contention for the title, neither team was willing to concede ground.

Alberni scored and converted a try early in the second half to go ahead by two points. Colten Smith responded by burning around the blind side of a breakdown to score. The Black Sheep answered back, but the Piggies scored the last two tries.

After Robin Gusse went over the line to restore the lead, Cowichan got the ball back and held off Alberni for the next eight or nine minutes, then capped it off with an 80th-minute try from Danny Homeniuk, a new pickup from Prince George

“It’s always nice having a new face,” Wright said of Homeniuk. “And scoring your first try in the black and green is a good feeling.”

The Piggies sustained a few injuries in the match, making things interesting as the team prepares to host Bayside this Saturday at 1 p.m. One of the top First Division sides in B.C., the White Rock club won 84-0 when the teams met on the Mainland in October, but Wright is optimistic his team will give them a better challenge this time.

“We’re a different team now, with new faces,” he said.

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