It was a great day for St. Albert rugby when the Alberta Cup provincial finalists whipped the Druids of Strathcona by 46 points to kick off the premier fixtures.
“For the first game of the year it’s an excellent win,” said stalwart Jake Robinson after Saturday’s convincing 53-7 result. “It’s the home opener today and we had lots of fans out. It was fun.”
After the Druids missed a penalty kick in the fifth minute, the firsts pounded the visitors into submission with five tries in the first half for a commanding 31-0 advantage at the break.
“We were excited to get going, especially with how last year ended,” said Robinson, who snaked his way into the try area for a score in the blowout.
After compiling an impressive 26-4-1 record the last two seasons as back-to-back pennant winners, including a near perfect 13-1 mark in 2009, the provincial runners up two years in a row have a score to settle.
“We’ll be OK. We’re strong again. We’ve got lots of good players,” said Robinson, a mischievous competitor who didn’t miss a beat moving from scrum-half into the centres as the promising Quinn Brophy took over the quarterbacking duties.
The first 15 Saturday included seven players who started in last year’s provincial final, a disappointing 24-22 loss to the Calgary Hornets. The line-up also featured eight starters from the 24-10 loss to the Calgary Saints in the 2008 final. Several replacements on the rosters of both finals also played prominent roles in beating the Druids.
“Everybody played hard today and contributed,” said standout flanker Kyle Gilmour. “It was a team effort from start to finish.”
Gilmour and fullback Aaron Takel were credited with multiple tries as the firsts methodically demolished the Druids.
“We played a strong, all-around good game,” Gilmour said. “It’s encouraging knowing that we’re only going to get better.”
Takel added five conversions and a penalty to lead the attack. He also made a fashion statement against his former club with his flashy mustard-coloured cleats that left the Druids seeing stars.
Despite the contributions of the backs, the forwards shared man of the match honours for their pulverizing performance. Lean, mean and hungry to succeed, the forwards made mincemeat out of the Druids.
“We played tough and it showed with our scores,” Gilmour said.
Dominik Jenni was in mid-season form at second row. The bearded wonder cracked the try line with a thunderous burst of speed that left the Druids reeling. He is projected to get tons of playing time after splitting last year as starter and replacement.
Eight-man Brett Kelly was his usual stellar self with a try and several teeth-rattling tackles.
Veteran prop Graham Noren, a first 15 mainstay from the 18-1 provincial second division provincial champions in 2007, showed some unselfishness by passing off a sure try deep in the Druids end that ultimately led to Jenni’s score to make it 46-0 in the 51st minute.
Rock-solid performances up front by Adrian Taggart, Aaron Millard, David Brennan and Paul Flynn also gave the Druids fits.
Frank Lucas, the MVP of the second 15 for St. Albert last year, played mistake-free rugby at standoff. In the first half he slipped through a leaky Druids’ defence with a short burst to score the team’s fourth try.
Wily winger Adam Bontus gave the firsts a jolt of adrenaline by knocking down a ball in the Druids’ territory, paving the way for an early try.
The intimidating Edwin Shimenga in the centres and sleek winger Matt Herod also made the most of their opportunities when presented with the ball.
“We showed some really good stuff today,” said Gilmour.
The former high school star with the St. Albert Skyhawks is only the second player in club history and the first since Rio Wells in 2007 to be recognized as the senior men’s player of the year in the Edmonton Rugby Union.
“It’s a big honour. I was very surprised,” said Gilmour, known as the silent assassin for his deadly, stealth-like tackles. “Of course, rugby is a team game and I have to share that honour with my teammates.”
What was encouraging about the 2010 debut by the firsts was the number of quality players not on the roster that should give the team a boost down the road, including British import Karim Lynch, the first 15’s rookie of the year who operated out of the centres.
Second-row Brian Pendlebury, the most improved player on the firsts 2009, also sat out the match with a lower-body injury.
“I think this was a good start to the season. We didn’t have ideal preparation to this week’s game but the boys came together and played pretty well,” said head coach Chal Smyth. “We’ve started the season with some injury problems already and we are missing our imports. However the players stepped up and when we get guys back, there will be a lot of competition for positions.”
The firsts are back on the pitch Saturday against the Clansmen. Kickoff is 3 p.m. at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.