The Cowichan Piggies are off to play for the Cowichan Cup in the Island final after a 19-13 win over the Hornets in Nanaimo in the first round of the First Division men’s rugby playoffs last Saturday.
“It wasn’t pretty rugby most of the game,” Piggies head coach Gord McGeachy said. “But it was playoff rugby, and a win is a win.”
The Piggies made a statement right away, controlling possession and territory early on.
“We started off pretty well,” McGeachy said. “We had them under pressure a lot of the first half. In particular, in the first 15 minutes, we had them pinned pretty good.”
Right around that time, Cody Milne came in as an injury replacement and scored a try almost immediately, with Jenner Teufel slotting the conversion for a 7-0 lead. About 10 minutes after that, Matt Melgaard took the ball over the line for another try that Teufel converted.
Cowichan’s early surge started to wane a bit after that, and Nanaimo scored what McGeachy termed a “soft” try with about 10 minutes left in the half, followed by a penalty goal, and it was 14-8 at halftime.
“We took the foot off the gas and let them creep back in,” McGeachy said.
Still, the coach was largely satisfied with the effort in the opening 40 minutes.
“We controlled most of the first half, and we were playing a lot of good rugby,” he said. “We didn’t get over the line as much as we should have; we left a few points on the field, for sure.”
Penalties killed some of the momentum, McGeachy noted, and the Piggies were “fighting the ref” at times.
In contrast to the Piggies dominance early in the first half, play was mostly back-and-forth in the second half. Mike Rea added to Cowichan’s lead with an unconverted try, then with about 15 minutes left to play, the Hornets got their second try, making it 19-13, where the score remained.
Not surprisingly for a heated playoff game between longtime rivals, the game got scrappy down the stretch.
“Both teams had discipline issues,” McGeachy said. “I think the frustration with the ref was starting to show through.”
Cowichan almost added one more try in the dying minutes, but were stymied by a dropped ball.
The players who got on the scoresheet weren’t the only contributors in what was, by and large, a team effort.
“Scott McLeod had a really good game in the back row; he made some pretty solid defensive hits,” McGeachy said. “And Dan James was a rock in the scrum; he had his usually good game.”
Gregor Grantham also made his return to the starting lineup and played well.
“He showed very well after being out for a few games, for sure,” McGeachy added.
The Piggies visit Westshore for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff this Saturday to battle for the Cowichan Cup. Cowichan ended up on the low side of a 20-19 score in the last meeting between the teams, on April 2.
“The last time we played them was the best game we’ve played against them in a while,” McGeachy said, adding that the momentum from that match carried into last weekend’s win over Nanaimo and McGeachy hopes it keeps going into the next game.
“We proved that if we play well, we can hang with them, and even play better than they can,” he said. “I expect an intense, physical battle. The emotions that were on display last time in a game that didn’t really matter will be even bigger when there is more on the line. Probably the team that keeps its composure and takes the fewest penalties will prevail.”
Based on the talent and depth on his squad, and the way the Piggies have played in the last few weeks, he isn’t surprised to be in the Island final.
“We had such a great first half, and then the second half was up and down,” he said. “We’ve probably found some consistency now. Last time we played Westshore, we showed what we’re capable of. Based on the last couple of weeks, I think this is where we deserve to be. We can think about taking it one more round.”
If they beat Westshore, the Piggies would be in line to host the provincial semifinal the following weekend.
“There’s still a lot of rugby left to play,” McGeachy said. “As long as we keep winning.”