The strength of high school rugby in the Cowichan Valley was evident as the provincial boys tournament played out in Abbotsford last week.
In addition to Shawnigan Lake School taking the B.C. AAA championship, the region had three other teams in the tournament.
Cowichan Secondary placed 12th in the AAA bracket, while in the AA division, Brentwood College School finished seventh and Frances Kelsey ended up 16th.
After a 22-17 opening-round loss to Handsworth, the Cowichan Thunderbirds beat Island rivals Vanier 24-11. That was followed by a 31-17 defeat by Carson Graham and a 27-10 loss to Kelowna. "The boys had a fantastic provincials," coach Kenton McNutt said. "They bonded together and performed admirably. They represented the Cowichan Valley very well on and off the field. Regardless of the results, [co-coach Rogi Young] and myself are very proud of all of them."
Against Carson Graham, a couple of minor errors led to a couple of converted tries that made the difference, or else Cowichan would have played for ninth in B.C. The Kelowna game was particularly challenging.
"A few injuries started to pile up, and they’re a big, big team," McNutt said. "[Co-coach Rogi Young] and I knew our size would be an issue at one point, and against Kelowna is where we were at a disadvantage."
Peyton Eagar, a Grade 11 player and the rare specimen who can suit up at virtually any position, was named to the Commissioner’s XV for a standout performance that had the coaches from UBC asking his high school coaches for contact information.
"He earned that without any doubt," McNutt said.
Also garnering attention were Grade 12s Amish Dobson, Jared Champoux and Alucious Gray, who were approached by provincial team coaches. That trio is among the 14 players, out of 28 on the roster, that the T-Birds will lose to graduation. McNutt believes the program will continue to flourish next year even with those departures.
"Because we have so many, we’ll still have half the team," he said. "We’ll be tough again next year."
Brentwod College beat D.W. Poppy in the first round to lock up a top-eight finish. That was followed by a 53-0 loss to Rockridge and a narrow 14-8 loss to Southridge, but the school finished on a strong note, beating Hugh McRoberts in the seventh-place match, It was a "big ask" for Brentwood to beat Rockridge, coach Shane Thompson admitted, but with fewer penalties, they probably could have beaten Southridge, which would have put them in the running for fifth place.
The game against McRoberts allowed Brentwood to go out with a win.
"We finally scored some points, and didn’t take as many penalties," Thompson said. "That was the difference."
Graduating fly-half Aaron Hersant was named to the Commissioner’s XV.
"He did an exceptional job this year, on and off the field," Thompson said of Hersant, who is bound for UVic next year.
Of the 31 players Brentwood took to the provincial tournament, about 17 are expected back next year. Thompson instituted a new system this year that took some getting used to, but which will be even more entrenched next year.
"About half the guys [next year] will know it, so it will be that much easier," he said.
The Kelsey Breakers lost all four of their games in the provincial tournament, falling 36-0 to Glenlyon Norfolk, 25-14 to R.E.
Mountain, 29-15 to Sutherland, and 17-13 to Smithers as they placed 16th. Regardless of the result, coaches Tom Fogarty and Craig Schmidt and athletic director Adam Johnston expressed their pride in the players.
"The boys played their hearts out and gave it their all, but our lack of raw speed and continuous ill-discipline around the rucks made it difficult for us to get the desired victories throughout," Fogarty said. "Even though the boys were disappointed with the results, they all had a fantastic experience and will have fond memories for years to come."
Like Cowichan, Kelsey had a Grade 11 player named to the Commissioner’s XV, which bodes extremely well for next year. Flanker and captain Chad Garriock "led from the front in all three games [in Abbotsford] and never took a step backwards," Fogarty said.
"Even though we will lose a number of talented grads, the future looks bright for Kelsey rugby as next year we will have a predominantly Grade 12 team, which should produce good results for the near future."