By all logic, the Cowichan Piggies shouldn’t have been in the provincial U16 boys rugby championship game.
Missing several key players and facing some tough competition early on, the team got off to a rough start. Although they recovered from that, it wasn’t enough to secure a playoff spot by finishing in the top four of the league. Then fourth-place Abbotsford opted out of the postseason, opening up a spot for fifth-place Cowichan. Making the best of that opportunity, the Piggies not only pushed their way into the final, but won it on their home turf last Sunday with a 29-17 victory over Capilano.
“It’s been a really interesting season,” said Kenton McNutt, who coached the team along with Marvin Seymour and Mike Rea. “We started against some top teams at the very beginning of the season, and we had key injuries to some of our players who played rep rugby last summer with Team BC and the Tsunami, and they couldn’t quite get in the games.”
When Cowichan played Capilano on Oct. 18, the North Vancouver side won 41-0.
“That gives you a good idea of the extent of our injuries at the time,” McNutt said.
As the season progressed, the four or five injured players made their way back into action, and the Piggies got better and better, winning their last five games, including three regular season games and a 29-12 victory over Castaway Wanderers in the Nov. 22 semifinal.
“The boys who came back made a significant impact to our end results,” McNutt said. “It came down to the whole team’s character. For us, the season was highlighted by the number of injuries we had and how they came back and the results we had at the end of the season. This was definitely a Cinderella story. We weren’t supposed to be in the playoffs, which was predicated by the beginning of the season.”
The Piggies led Capilano 29-12 before a late try drew the visiting side closer. In a hurry to make the most of the time left, they rushed the conversion and missed.
“We had a simple, simple game plan,” McNutt said. “We utilized our movement of the ball, and everyone dug in and executed flawlessly, as you can see by the result.”
Dean Mason, team captain Owen Cumming, Ciaran Breen, Reece Tudor-Jones and Michael Jin all scored tries for Cowichan, with Tudor-Jones also slotting a pair of conversions. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, Matthew McDougall, one of the injured players from earlier in the season, provided some inspiration for his teammates by strapping on the boots and starting Sunday’s game.
“He was on for the first 20 minutes, and he was just a wizard at fly-half, delivering the ball to his teammates on the back line,” McNutt said.
The win is something the entire Cowichan Valley can be proud of, with contributions from throughout the region.
“One of the things we are proud of is that this was a committed effort from the coaches and people involved with the administration of the high school rugby programs,” McNutt said, noting that the team included players from Ladysmith, Chemainus, Cowichan and Frances Kelsey secondary schools, as well as Brentwood and Shawnigan Lake schools. “It was truly representative of the quality of players in the Cowichan Valley. It’s something we’ve worked hard on the last few years, building a relationship with the schools and people building programs at the schools. That all came to a head with this win.”
With high school rugby getting under way in the spring, the official junior rugby season is over for club teams, but the Piggies are hoping to keep going with an exhibition schedule, specifically to keep the players whose high schools don’t have junior teams. Anyone interested in playing should contact the Cowichan club at facebook.com/cowichanjuniorpiggies