After a trio of hard-fought games with close final scores, the Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds ended up matching their seeding with a sixth-place finish in the AAA Tier 2 bracket at the provincial boys rugby championships.
The T-Birds came out slow in their tournament opener against third-seeded Abbotsford Secondary last Wednesday and found themselves trailing 23-5 midway through the second half.
“And then there were 15 minutes left and all hell broke lose,” Cowichan coach Tom Fogarty said. “All of a sudden, the team started to play the way they know they can.”
That led to a pair of tries from No. 8 Dylan Taylor, both of which were converted, and Cowichan made it 23-19 with five minutes left and momentum on their side. Abbotsford lost two players to yellow cards, and after a couple of possession changes, Cowichan appeared to score after a 50-metre run by their open-side flanker, only to have the try called back for double movement.
“It was a momentous heartbreaker,” Fogarty recalled. “However, these young men are special, and they stood up strong and proud of the heart they showed. It was a quiet ride back to the hotel.”
Cowichan’s next match was the rubber match of the season series against Island rivals G.P. Vanier. Again Cowichan started slow and Vanier opened the scoring, but the T-Birds improved and led 12-7 at halftime on a pair of tries by Logan Kits and a conversion by Justin Marinier.
Vanier scored again and slotted the conversion to pull ahead 14-12 with seven minutes remaining. Grade 10 Cullen Plester got the ball on the wing, then chipped it ahead, kicked it ahead a second time and was almost on the ball in the end zone when he was pulled back by a Vanier defender. The ensuing penalty try made it 19-14 for Cowichan, who held on for the win.
On Saturday, Cowichan faced R.A. McMath for fifth place. Once more, the other side got on the board first, but the T-Birds battled back to make it 7-7 in a try by hooker Brayden Doucette and a conversion by Marinier. Marinier slotted a penalty kick to put Cowichan ahead, and Taylor — who went on to earn Commissioner’s XV honours — scored shortly before the break to make it 17-7 after another kick by Marinier.
Fogarty considered the game a moral victory regardless of the final result, and with 20 minutes remaining, put players into the match who hadn’t seen the field at provincials up until that point.
“Whether I would do this again or not in the future is a question I can’t answer,” the coach said. “But I can tell you that in that moment as I looked into the eyes of the young men who have been so dedicated to our team and not had the chance to play, it felt like the right thing to do.”
The reserves, many either rookies or juniors, put up a fight, and Kits was able to score again, but Cowichan’s inexperience showed, and McMath pulled ahead for a 31-24 final score.
“I am proud of every single member of this family,” Fogarty said. “I am proud of the support that this community and particularly [the Cowichan Rugby Football Club] have given this team. I am proud to live and work and volunteer here in what must surely be the best place on Earth.”
Graduating players from this year’s team include Kits, Taylor, Brendan Alphonse, Griffin Diaczuk, Braeden Nash, Liam Simmonds, Nicolas Young, Andrew Haywood, Reid Hebbert, Franz Cherubim, Thore Labrenz, Kawsar Kaiweisaer, Ricardo Torres and Chaz Orminston.
Fogarty expressed his gratitude to the team’s many sponsors, including the CRFC, Coast Electric, 49th Parallel, Sports Traders, Island Savings, Just Jake’s, A&W.