A profound ending to an unforgettable day was a fitting tribute to the Godfather of St. Albert rugby.
The Gareth Jones Memorial Game in support of junior rugby was a smashing success, culminating with Brian Fitzpatrick’s dramatic penalty kick on the final play to crown a 10-point comeback in the last 10 minutes by the Labatt’s Cup premier men’s provincial champions against the Calgary Canucks.
“Going into it today we knew it was a big game and there was going to be a lot of people coming down so to show tribute and play hard for one of the founders of this club was massive for us. That's what we were playing for,” said game-breaker Duncan Maguire and his second of two tries after halftime with five minutes to go set the stage for Fitzpatrick’s heroics.
“We really rallied together. It was a full 23, actually a 24-team effort. We had the whole crowd cheering us on,” Maguire said.
The 24-22 thriller at St. Albert Rugby Football Club was too good to be true after the Canucks kicked a penalty from the 22-metre line to make it 22-14 with time slipping away at an alarming rate for the home team.
“We were down and out, but we just stuck to our game plan and just grinded it out so we were delighted. It was a great win,” said Fitzpatrick, who was mobbed by teammates as a huge roar engulfed the SARFC facility after the Irish import coolly sliced the ball through the posts with the game-winning dagger.
With the ball teed up a couple of yards outside the 22, the southpaw kicker lined up the right-to-left attempt as a deafening hush hung over the proceedings and the only audible sound was Fitzpatrick’s heart beating through his chest.
“It was tough. My heart was racing. I just wanted to get it over and done with,” said the 21-year-old standoff. “I was actually rethinking about not kicking it because I was so nervous and thankfully it went over.”
Maguire knew it was a done deal as soon as the referee awarded SARFC a penalty following a lineout ball thrown by Angus (Gus) MacDonald to Can Larson, the jumper, and key possession plays by Joe Casella and Nathan Yue before the ruling against the Canucks put Fitzpatrick under the microscope to seal the deal.
“Brian has been solid for us on the kicks all year, but there was still so much pressure on him for the last play of the game to make that kick and it wasn't an easy kick at all because it was in between the sideline and the goal post,” Maguire said.
It took the SARFC first 15 longer than expected to post its first lead of the match.
“We didn't even play for 75 minutes and when we played for the five minutes that we did, we played very well,” Fitzpatrick said.
Head coach Jeremy Kyne expanded on those sentiments in the post-match huddle.
“For 75 minutes we didn't have their energy and then for five minutes when we got that little sniff then we got urgent and then we started playing rugby, and you know what it was? It was our rucking. When we were urgent we rucked, we cleaned the ball and we made them stand back and look at us, and guess about what we were going to do, but for the first 75 minutes it was all too easy for them,” Kyne told the players.
The Canucks positioned themselves for the win with a try to the corner that was unconverted to break a 14-14 tie and 13 minutes later went up by eight with the penalty kick.
However, a resurgent SARFC side caught lightning in a bottle with Maguire’s try under the posts off a lineout and Fitzpatrick’s quick kick without a tee on the conversion tightened the gap to a single point.
“Our objective was to keep the ball in play and we set that play up for Duncan so it was kind of like, 'Will he catch it?' 'Will he not?' and thankfully he caught it,” Fitzpatrick said.
On the SARFC lineout from outside the five-metre line of the Canucks, the ball shifted hands from left to right with Maguire the finisher with a straight dash through the defensive line.
“Their defence was defending really tight. There was a big gap between the 13 (outside-centre) and fullback and luckily we had Rhys (Peters) and Mazz (Austin Mazzolini-Flynn) outside of me really pulling them out, so that helped a lot. That left a huge gap for me to go right into,” Maguire said.
After Fitzpatrick’s conversion, the players raced back to receive the ball from the Canucks, who took their time setting up the kickoff. After the boot, the rest was another historical lore in the annals of SARFC rugby as the lads controlled the ball while pushing the Canucks on their heels before Fitzpatrick came through in the clutch.
Gareth Jones Day
“It was good to get a great result on a memorial day like today,” Kyne said.
The Gareth Jones Memorial Game featured vintage SARFC jerseys worn by the premier squad with Jones on the back of each one. The jerseys were later auctioned off to assist with scholarships and grants for SARFC juniors in Jones’ memory.
Jones, one of the Nervous Nine founding members of SARFC and its first president, died Dec. 31, 2017 at the age of 78.
Jones coached Paul Kane’s first rugby team in 1980 and the Gareth Jones Cup is awarded to the winners of the male and female Battle of St. Albert high school matches.
Jones was inducted into the Alberta Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005 and two years ago joined his friend, Roger Scott, as the first SARFC members in the Edmonton Rugby Union Hall of Fame.
“It was massive to get a victory here and for Gareth. I didn't know him, but it was a good day and to get that win was the main thing,” said Fitzpatrick, a first-year SARFC player and candidate for the team’s MVP award.
The first half of the Alberta Cup round two match in the six-team north/south interlocking fixtures was dominated by the Canucks (2-1, 6-2 overall) even though the score was knotted at seven at the break.
A converted try by the Canucks was scored with Fitzpatrick in the sin-bin on the second field in the 14th minute after a gruesome knee injury to captain Orrin Farries in the fourth minute forced the teams to move off the first pitch for the ambulance to arrive.
As Farries was carted off the pitch, Ian Ferguson belted out Amazing Grace on his bagpipes. Ferguson still had enough hot air in him for the solemn sendoff after piping the SARFC players through the tunnel of young juniors for the opening kick off.
When play resumed on the first pitch, the Canucks continued to exert their will on the bend-but-didn’t-break SARFC defence. The inability to tackle the rampaging Canucks low prompted Kyne to yell from the touchline, “Shoulders into spleens!”
A try under the posts by winger Matt Jarvis and Fitzpatrick’s conversion knotted the score at seven to end the first half.
“We were definitely down in our end a lot and we had a lot of penalties in the first half which really slowed the momentum, especially in the backs. We felt we weren't really getting much balls, which was very frustrating, but the last 20 minutes we turned it on so that's what matters. We finished strong,” Maguire said.
Nine minutes into the second half, Fitzpatrick’s penalty kick from an angle on the 40-metre line was unsuccessful after Yue was involved in some hijinks with a combatant that resulted in a sin-bin sentence.
Ten minutes later, the Canucks regained the lead with a converted try and SARFC answered with Maguire picking off a pass between the 22 and 40 metre lines, and the opportunistic back ripped up the pitch with a blazing run into the try area as the fans went wild. Fitzpatrick’s conversion tied it at 14.
“I pressured up on the D and they threw a flat pass and it was kind of right in front of me so I just went for it. I was lucky to take it to the try zone because their guy was hot on my heels and I don't quite have the pace l used to. I’m a bit out of shape plus it’s been a while since I played,” said Maguire, who still remains the fastest player at SARFC despite turning the dreaded 30 recently.
A number of players in the SARFC lineup didn’t dress in the team’s round two opener the previous weekend as the Calgary Rams (3-0, 7-1 overall) clobbered the visitors 69-12.
Last year SARFC stomped the Rams 42-26 in the provincial final at Calgary.
“We just really haven't had all the players out and myself, I’m very guilty of that, so this weekend it seemed like we had a bit more of a consistent team and to rally like we did is a massive result. After last weekend a lot of the heads were down so this is massive especially right now because it’s an important part of the season. We just have a few more games (to qualify for the semifinals) so we really want to hit the playoffs at top form,” Maguire said.
Upcoming for SARFC (1-1, 6-3 overall) is Saturday’s trip to Calgary to play the Hornets (0-3, 3-5 overall) at 2 p.m.
The next home march is Aug. 29 against the Nor’Westers (0-2, 4-5 overall) at 6:30 p.m.