Niagara Lightning short circuit Vancouver for rugby title

The Niagara Lightning, drawn from players in rugby clubs in the Golden Horseshoe, defeated the Western Division champions, the Vancouver Wave 20-19 to win the Rugby Canada Super League U20 National championship. Sunday’s (Aug. 10) match was played on poor ground conditions after heavy rains, but rugby fans were treated to an excellent final at Crusader Park in Oakville.

Conor Wade (London) on the ground as Mike Berry (Niagara) jars the ball loose from Vancouver captain and flyhalf Charlie Jones (Photo: John Guilfoyle)

Both teams were undefeated in the build-up to the final and the talent and skills shown by these Under 20 athletes in the match reflected that. The Lightning opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a try from Athar Zia of Waterloo. The Wave were moving the ball well, combining strong running from their big backs as well as forwards, but the Lightning defence was solid. Another three points came from a penalty and then with five minutes left in the half, a well-executed crosskick found Mike Berry of Niagara catching the ball just inside the corner flag where he grounded it, giving Niagara a 13-0 edge.

But the Wave made one last and very determined attack to get on the scoreboard before the break. The backs ran hard; then a quick ball from a ruck near the Lightning try line was taken in and the convert made the score 13-7 end the half.

The second half, like the first, was a pattern of very strong running by the Vancouver visitors – flyhalf and captain Charlie Jones and their huge inside center Taylor Dalziel. This was offset by solid tackling from the Lightning, #8 Mike Berry and prop Luke Racine, often causing the ball to be lost. However, the Wave were able to take most of the breakdown ball and played in the Lightning end for almost 20 minutes. A penalty attempt went wide but another penalty taken quickly gave them a try near the posts. The successful convert put the Wave in the lead for the first time, 13-14. However the Lightning scrum was dominant and the next play saw Niagara run the ball, lose it in the tackle only 30 metres out, then win against the head as they drove the Wave back 10 metres. #8 Berry picked up, broke some half tackles and was over for another five points. Rory McDonnell of Brantford kicked the convert and the Lightning were back in the lead 20-14.

The next 20 minutes was mostly attack by the Wave and solid defence by Lightning, with the Wave’s superior skills at the rucks and their off-loading giving them Wave after Wave of attack and eventually a quick ruck ball saw Charlie Jones come in at an angle and touch it down to make it 20-19. But alas for the Wave, the convert which would have put them back in the lead, was unsuccessful. And so it continued for the final tense 10 minutes. Wave after Wave, struck down by Lightning.

Lightning head coach Gary MacDonald allowed it was anybody’s game and a great final, with excellent rugby by both sides. Wave coach Pat Fleck said the conditions created several handling errors by both sides, thought Lightning pack defended well and scrumhalf Colin Brown (London) had an excellent game.

Yesterday in St. Johns, the Newfoundland Rock defeated Calgary to take the Senior RCSL title.