Shawnigan Lake School returned to the top of the heap in B.C. high school rugby with a 21-12 victory over St. George’s in the AAAA provincial final in Abbotsford on Friday.
Since the B.C. Secondary Schools Rugby Union added the AAAA division in 2016, Shawnigan has won three of four championships at the top level. The exception was last year, when Oak Bay defeated Shawnigan in the final.
This year, Shawnigan rallied in the second half to knock off St. George’s, the same team they defeated in the 2016 and 2017 AAAA finals.
It’s not the first time Shawnigan has come through with a strong second half.
“It’s just our culture, I guess,” said Ciaran Breen, Shawnigan’s captain and representative on the Commissioner’s XV. “We’re resilient. We’ve gone through adversity this year. With expectations and pressure. The thought of losing the banner two years in a row? That brings a lot of pressure.”
Coach Andrew Doyle wasn’t surprised to see his team come through in the second half against St. George’s.
“They have trust in their defence,” he said of the Shawnigan players. “We have powerful scorers, too. It’s the game plan. We grind teams down: wave after wave of physical defence, it wears teams down.”
The adversity the team has gone through, combined with memories from last year, made this year’s final that much more important.
“The emotions of playing together for the last time — especially for the Grade 12s — it meant a lot and helped focus us,” Breen said. “We had to leave everything on the pitch.”
The emotions broke through after the final whistle.
“A lot of the guys were crying,” Breen said. “It was just a sweet victory for me. It was everything I’ve been straining for. It was my main goal, above all the other rep teams I’ve been playing for.”
According Doyle, the difference in the final was Shawnigan’s play without the ball.
“Our defence was the secret,” he said. “We worked on it all season. It was lacking a little bit earlier in the season, but we kept working on it and it came back in a big way. Some of the Grade 12s also stepped up in a big way.”
Shawnigan knocked off the defending champions from Oak Bay 41-26 in the semifinals to set up the final against Oak Bay.
“The guys came out with a little more heart,” Breen said of the thriller against the Barbarians. “We’ve played Oak Bay three times already. Guys maybe were a little overconfident. We had to really battle to come back in that one.”
The team has worked since the start of the school year to make this championship happen, Doyle pointed out.
“Their hard work started in September,” he said. “That work on the off-season, the laps of the pond in the rain and snow and wind. They worked so hard for this.”
Breen was awarded a scholarship to play at UBC, but plans to defer and play a year of pro rugby in France first. A Cowichan Valley product from just down the road in Mill Bay, he was honoured to serve as Shawnigan’s captain for a year.
“Being captain made it really special,” he said. “I was able to steer the boat in the direction I thought was best. I’ll always have a deep connection. And the fact we pulled it together: it was a team effort, but just being able to wear that jersey as captain — it’s something I’ve dreamed of doing.”