The Cowichan Cup is coming home.
The Cowichan Piggies defeated the Port Alberni Black Sheep 41-0 in Port Alberni last Saturday to reclaim their eponymous trophy, which was first awarded in 1922 and which the team last won in 2016.
“There’s a lot of history to it,” Cowichan coach Andrew Wright said. “Obviously it’s the one with our name for it. It’s good that it has come back home.”
When he planned his goals for the 2017-18 season, Wright didn’t even consider the Cowichan Cup. The trophy is contested by First Division teams from Vancouver Island clubs that don’t field a Premiership side, but with only Cowichan and Alberni eligible this year, Wright assumed it wouldn’t be awarded. He only found out after Saturday’s match.
“Jas, their coach, said congrats on the double,” Wright recalled. “And it dawned on me that they were presenting that one to us as well.”
Earlier this year, Cowichan won the Times Cup competition, which all Island First Division teams compete for, regardless of any affiliation to a Premiership team. This was just the second season this group has been together, the second for Wright as a head coach, and the first as captain for Jenner Teufel.
The Piggies went to Port Alberni prepared for plenty of resistance, even though the Black Sheep were undermanned.
“We went up there looking for a hard game, and it was a hard game for the first half, basically,” Wright said. “It was a battle.”
The Cowichan players were stuck in their own end for the first 12 minutes or so, as Alberni gave it their best effort.
The next 20-25 minutes were played largely in Alberni’s half of the pitch, but the Black Sheep put up some strong defence. It wasn’t until the last minute of the first half that James Patterson found his way over the line. Owen Wood slotted the conversion, and the Piggies went to the break with a 7-0 lead.
The early-spring conditions made things tough for both teams throughout the match, Wright noted.
“The rain was coming down ferociously for the whole game,” he said. “You could tell both sides were struggling with that.”
After the brutal first half, the Piggies regrouped for the second half and took over. Cowichan’s fitness — something the team has spent significant time working on this year — started to show, while Alberni struggled with a lack of numbers and players in positions they weren’t used to.
Wood kicked a penalty goal five minutes in. Then, the Piggies had a series of rapid-fire tries scored by Robin Gusse, Wood and Cody Milne, all converted by Wood. Bruce Moss and Colten Smith added unconverted tries as the game carried on.
“We played our rugby,” Wright said. “We played the rugby we wanted to against Port Alberni.”
Wright expressed his respect for the Alberni team that played hard despite a lack of numbers.
“I give them a lot of credit,” he said. “It’s always a hard, hard game up there, and they knew the position they were in. They’re stand-up guys, a stand-up club. They host us well.”
The Cowichan coach was also pleased with his own team’s performance.
“They all played extremely well together,” he said. “They grinded it out mentally and physically. It was a whole team effort.”
As the Cowichan Cup winners, the Piggies are also the top seed from the Island going into the provincial playoffs. They will play either United or Langley at home on April 21. Those teams will square off in their league finale this weekend, and Cowichan will face the loser.
The Piggies beat Langley in an exhibition match earlier this year. They were supposed to play United, but that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.
In preparation for that match, the Piggies will head to Nanaimo this weekend to play the Hornets’ First Division side, which is out of playoff contention. The match will honour Wayne Peace, a former player who starred for both clubs and died in 2007.
“It’s nice, going into the playoffs, to have the opportunity to play them on Saturday,” Wright said. “It’s a different atmosphere.”