Under heavy rains and high winds, the Ontario Blues senior men’s provincial team overcame adverse playing conditions to win their Canadian Rugby Championship season opener on Saturday afternoon (Aug. 16), defeating the Atlantic Rock, 20-11, at Ottawa’s Twin Elm Rugby Park.
Ontario drew first blood in the match, when Canadian international hooker Ray Barkwill (Niagara Wasps) crashed over the try line in the fourth minute of play. Captain Derek Daypuck (London St. George’s) notched the tough conversion to give the Blues an early 7-0 lead.
Minutes later, a Shawn Windsor (Stoney Creek) line break led to a penalty against the Rock. Daypuck opted to kick for points, and after successfully converting the penalty, Ontario’s lead increased to 10-0.
With the slippery conditions creating havoc for both sides, Rock fullback Patrick McNicholas was able to capitalize on a couple of Blues errors in Ontario’s end, kicking for two penalties in the latter stages of the half to bring the Atlantic side to within four points of the Blues.
The Rock gained the lead on the stroke of halftime, with McNicholas chasing down a chip kick to touch down in the corner for a try. His own conversion was wide, but McNicholas’ effort was good enough to secure the Rock with an 11-10 advantage heading into the interval.
Looking to rebound from the Rock’s late first-half scoring surge, the Blues began the second half with greater urgency, and would regain the lead after lock Hank McQueen muscled a try underneath the posts just five minutes after the restart. With Daypuck’s conversion, Ontario climbed to a 17-11 lead.
The ensuing 25 minutes saw the pace of play slow down as a result of the weather, with neither side able to gain much of an advantage as players struggled to hang on to the perpetually wet ball.
With just under 10 minutes to play, Ontario received some insurance via the boot of Daypuck, who struck for his second penalty of the match. The 20-11 score line would hold until the sound of the final whistle.
“It was a hard-fought win for our guys, especially in these terrible conditions,” said Blues’ head coach Chris Silverthorn. “It wasn’t rugby weather and both teams couldn’t pass or catch the ball, but our guys manned up, and got the win in our CRC opener.”
One of Silverthorn’s standouts from the match was 18-year-old fullback Andrew Coe (Markham Irish), who earned his first senior provincial CRC cap.
“It was a tough match to receive my first cap for the Blues, as the rain didn’t make things easy, but I was happy to contribute to the win, and I’m hoping for many more wins this season,” said Coe. “We have a very good team this year, a great mix of talented young players and veterans, and we’ll be working hard to get our fourth straight national championship.”
On top of serving as the Blues’ season opener, Saturday’s match held additional significance – it marked Ontario’s first CRC appearance in Eastern Ontario. In working with the Eastern Ontario Rugby Union to bring high performance matches to the Ottawa region, this game represented a major step towards widening the Blues’ breadth across Ontario.
“Ottawa’s a great rugby hotbed, for both Ontario and Canada,” added Silverthorn. “It was a great experience playing here. We had Ottawa rugby legend Al Charron in today to talk to our guys about the history of Ontario rugby in Ottawa, which was very special. Twin Elm is a fantastic venue for a CRC match, and we hope to return soon.”
The Blues now have two weeks of training before embarking on their annual west coast swing, where they will face the Prairie Wolf Pack in Edmonton on Sept. 4, followed by the British Columbia Bears in Vancouver on Sept. 7.