The pride and the passion that symbolized St. Albert's dominance in premier men's rugby was missing in action Saturday against the Clansmen.
The 34-12 shocker was only the sixth loss in 52 matches for the first 15, Alberta Cup pennant winners and provincial finalists the last two years and Alberta Rugby Union second division champions in 2007.
"It was pretty awful. After three years of domination at home it sucks to come out and take it on the chin in front of our home crowd," said a grim-faced Graham Noren. "We just didn't have that kick in the butt that we've always flashed."
The Clan (2-0) celebrated their conquest at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club with a post-game team picture under the posts to commemorate the accomplishment.
"This is a big moment for the club," said Warren De Bruin, a Clan import at standoff. "We want to be up there with the big four in Alberta and this win sets the benchmark for ourselves."
De Bruin was blown away by the margin of victory.
"I am surprised. I was expecting it to be a tight game," he said. "The fact that the boys stuck to the game plan so well is pretty much what killed them. Our structure was so sound today."
The Clan set the tone with a try in the sixth minute by breaking a couple of lazy tackles en route to the try area.
"It was the first five minutes when the guys realized that we were pretty much in control of the game," said De Bruin, a major offensive contributor with two tries and one conversion.
After the try, the firsts blindly threw the ball away on two potential scoring opportunities that raised the ire of the St. Albert supporters. They continued to cough up the ball at an alarming rate, until the final whistle mercifully ended the worst performance by the elite squad since 2006.
"They absolutely capitalized on our mistakes. We were tossing some bad ball around and we were also out of position. How many tries did you see today that were a bobbled ball run in for a try or some mistake we made and they scored off of it," said Noren, a no-nonsense veteran prop. "It seemed like we were running in sand for part of the game. We were running around but we weren't making any ground. We weren't making good rugby decisions. We weren't putting ourselves into spots where we could succeed."
The Clan recorded their second try in the 20th minute as fullback Mat Herod failed to wrap up the runner with a low tackle inside the 22-metre line and a couple of quick passes resulted in the score.
A malfunction with the ball between standoff Frank Lucas and Edwin Shimenga in the centres near the midfield strip allowed the Clan scorer to brush off a tackle attempt by scrum-half Quinn Brophy to make it 17-0 in the 37th minute as the boo-birds started chirping.
After a lengthy stay in the change room, the firsts trotted onto the field with heads hung low to kick off the second half. The Clan quickly struck off a five–minute scrum by twisting out of a couple of tackles before touching the ball down under the posts.
More passing gaffs continued to haunt the firsts, including a major snafu the Clan converted into a score.
Tries by Nathan Reis, a second-half sub, and newcomer Kyle Baillie from Prince Edward Island, made the score look somewhat respectable.
"It was the contests at the breakdowns that won the game for us," said De Bruin, 27, who has playing ties with the UBC Ravens of Vancouver and South Africa. "Our forwards set the platform up front for us today. We struggled a bit in first phase but they really fronted up and gave us a lot of good ball to play expansive rugby and we capitalized on it."
The line-up of firsts featured a handful of changes from the previous week's 53-7 dismantling of the visiting Druids in the season opener. Injuries and absent players forced head coach Chal Smyth to cobble together a crew that was a mixture of premier and second division talent. A slew of imports from Britain and Ireland have also yet to arrive.
The best of the bunch from the St. Albert side was Jake Robinson in the centres. His lively kicking leg and devilish running style kept the Clan on their toes. Lucas also showed signs until he was injured in the second half. Shimenga gained sizable yards on crash balls. Kyle Gilmour and Noren also showed a willingness to mix it up in the forwards.
"I don't want to make excuses but we're still waiting on some personnel. We've also had a shocking amount of injuries and we've always been pretty injury-free," Noren said.
Hornets up next
The firsts will now regroup for what will be the litmus test of the season May 29 against the Calgary Hornets (3-0) in a rematch of the 2009 provincial final. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. at Calgary Rugby Park. Last year's first loss after 13 straight wins was a disappointing 24-22 decision against the Hornets for provincial honours in front of a pro-St. Albert crowd at Ellerslie Rugby Park. It was 8-7 St. Albert at halftime.
"Obviously it's the biggest game of the year. I hope we can do what we did last season when we lost to the Saints [24-10] in the final the year before and we travelled to Calgary and beat the Saints [35-12]," said Noren, 26.
That same day St. Albert's second and third division squads in the Edmonton Rugby Union travel to Grande Prairie to play the Centaurs so the talent pool of players will be stretched to the limit to accommodate all three teams.
"We have to get fit, get healthy, have a good bus ride and come out with fire and smash the Hornets. Hopefully the guys will take this kick in the butt as an eye opener."