St. Albert rugby player George Biener is kicking the stuffing out of the ball after his health took a turn for the worse last year.
“I didn’t think I was going to play again actually,” the 19-year-old fly-half said after splitting the uprights three times on penalty kicks in Friday’s third division win against the Druids. “î got mono and then I got a blood disease. It took me six months on steroids to get healthy again. It was tough.”
The highly-touted high school product of the Paul Kane Blues made U18 Alberta without even trying out, but became ill and didn’t play in the Rugby Canada National Championships Festival last August in Ottawa.
“My body was fighting off the mono so what it also did was kill my platelets too, and those are things that stop you from bleeding,” Biener said. “It was pretty brutal.”
His second men’s game in a week and the third of his career was the 21-17 decision over the Druids (1-1) at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.
“Obviously the level is a bit tougher than what I’m used to and you really have to work for your spot,” said Biener, who played his first men’s game in Grade 11. “It’s good feeling that I’m on the roster and part of the team. The guys are great. It’s really fun.”
Against the Druids he took over the kicking duties from a shaky Matt Herod after the newcomer from Ontario missed three long boots from outside the 22-metre line in the opening 16 minutes. Biener’s first penalty kick attempt in the 22nd minute was unsuccessful but he nailed the next two from inside the 22-metre marker within a three-minute span to put St. Albert up 6-0 at halftime.
In the 61st minute Biener made it 16-14 with the third and longest of his three successful kicks.
Before the final whistle blew, and St. Albert ahead by four, Biener was way short with his farthest attempt of the game in front of the midfield line but a knock on kept the Druids stuck in their end.
“It was a good game but I’ve still got to work on things,” said Biener, who finished 3-for-6 kicking penalties. “I like kicking but I’m not the greatest kicker. I have to work on it a lot.”
The lanky Biener was initially scouted by U18 Alberta as a candidate for inside-centre but a concussion kept him out of provincial training sessions. His performance against England’s Gravesend Grammer School’s second team in an 43-13 exhibition triumph by the St. Albert U18s drew raves from the provincial coaches and he was invited to join the team at nationals. In another exhibition against a touring British side prior to nationals he was Alberta’s back of the match in the 33-22 win over Sevenoaks School.
In the May 2 season-opening 32-5 victory against the Norwesters he also did some kicking while stationed at inside-centre.
“I’m naturally a standoff. I got put into the centres because we had our first div guy [fly-half Frank Lucas] playing for us that game.”
The showdown between the 2008 Visser Shield combatants in the Edmonton Rugby Union playoffs was too close to call until prop Chris Butlin busted through traffic into the try area after Biener’s kick for touch from midfield set up a line-out around the five-metre line. Butlin’s score with 14 minutes remaining gave St. Albert a seven-point advantage.
Early in the second half a converted try by the Druids put St. Albert down by one. Two minutes after Biener missed a penalty kick from far away, Herod caught the Druids by surprise by scoring off a quick penalty play. The outside-centre exploded through the defending line in a blink of an eye from about the 22-metre marker. The converted try restored St. Albert’s lead at 13-7. The Druids replied nine minutes later by sneaking in a try off a tough push under the posts. With the convert the Druids led 14-13.
Other than a few dangerous runs into enemy territory by all-star back Duncan Maguire, St. Albert’s attack kept stalling throughout the forward-dominated match.
“It was a pretty tough game. We fought pretty hard and they gave it to us every time they could. We just got lucky with some penalties in their end at the start where we could convert them,” Biener said. “Hopefully we’ll pick it up and do even better next time.”
The starting 15 Friday was different from the line-up that beat the Norwesters. A talented core still remains from St. Albert’s third-place 10-5-1 record en route to the league final.
“We probably played better the last time [against the Norwesters],” Biener said. “Today we saw what can go wrong against teams that are tough against us and we can work towards correcting the mistakes.”
The next match for the thirds is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lep/Tigers (1-0).
“We’ve got a lot of great guys and it can only go up and up for us.”