St. Albert’s premier men’s rugby team didn’t perform up to expectations Saturday despite beating up the Calgary Saints by 34 points.
“For a lot of the guys, including myself, it wasn’t the best showing we could’ve had,” second row Dominik Jenni said after the 56-22 drubbing at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club. “We should’ve came out stronger and kept playing that way right until the very end of the game.”
The holy men of rugby could only round up a starting 15 without a front row so the match was played with uncontested scrums.
“We had a few problems with injuries this week so we came out with the best we can, which was only 15 players,” said player/coach Christian Wulff of the Saints. “For the team we brought up, good on them. They did exactly what I wanted, which was move up and make the tackles.”
The uncontested scrums took the edge away from the Alberta Cup tilt.
“We would push together and just touch and whosever ball it was they get it,” Jenni said. “The scrum loses a lot of its intensity when it’s uncontested. When there is a full-on head into a scrum, there is that intensity and that drive and you’re keeping that adrenaline going, whereas today you’re kind of standing there just stagnant, waiting for the ball to come out.”
The Saints did all their scoring in the second half after trailing by 28 at halftime.
“We said let’s get a few tries and that’s exactly what we did,” Wulff said of the four tries and one conversion. “A few things went against us early on in the game in regards to decisions we think weren’t accurate but such is life. You’ve got to play the game with what you get, it’s just unfortunate the ref got in the road today.”
The firsts stormed into the lead on tries by Jake Robinson in the fifth minute on a series of short, quick passes and by Aaron Takel in the ninth minute from some slick ball movement by Robinson.
A hard run by Jenni, followed by Quinn Brophy’s pass sprung Chris Butlin into the try area in the 14th minute.
Seven minutes later the firsts struck again as Matt Herod did most of the legwork on the scoring play.
Before the half ended, long runs by Edwin Shiminga and Kyle Gilmour almost resulted in tries.
Takel, arguably the best player on the pitch, converted all the tries and in the second half kicked three more conversions before subbing out with the firsts up 49-12.
Jenni, a six-foot-four and 230-pound sledgehammer, pounded his way past several Saints en route to a try four minutes into the second half. A crash ball by Shiminga left the Saints reeling, setting the stage for Jenni’s score.
Shiminga would score the next try as the Kenyan Express was on the receiving end of some passing wizardry by British import Karim Lynch. Last year’s rookie of the year on the firsts started in the backs after arriving the day before from overseas.
Kyle Baillie and Gilmour also added to the try totals and Robinson nailed the last conversion.
The Saints put their points on the board in the last 26 minutes of the game.
“In the first half we ran the ball well and made tackles and then in the second half we died off a bit,” Jenni said. “We let off a bit with the tackles and we lost intensity. I don’t know if the uncontested scrum took away a bit of the intensity, I know it did a bit for me, but we’ve still got to keep our heads down and bear down and we didn’t do that.”
It marked St. Albert’s first game after a rare loss at home, 34-12 May 15 against the Clansmen (2-0).
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” said Jenni, an early candidate for the team’s most improved player award after splitting time last year with the firsts as a starter and replacement. “The game against the Clan for all of us was disappointing. We wished we could’ve came out stronger but there is still a lot of the season ahead of us. We have to keep grinding and working hard. It’s better to take that loss then than later on the season.”
The previous weekend, the rematch of last year’s provincial final between St. Albert and the first-place Calgary Hornets (4-0) was snowed out in Calgary. The first loss after 13 straight wins last year by St. Albert was 24-22 against the Hornets for the championship.
Saturday’s victory was the second in three games for the Alberta Cup pennant winners and provincial finalists the last two years as the firsts soldiered through key injuries and a lack of imports in the early part of the schedule.
In his post-game address, head coach Chal Smyth urged the players to ramp up the intensity.
“The ultimate goal is to get into a provincial final where we have a chance to win it,” he said. “It starts with preparation. It starts with worrying only about what you have to do as an individual to be prepared to play 80 minutes. It’s commitment to yourself and commitment to each other.”
Only a handful of Saints from their 24-10 win over St. Albert in the 2008 provincial final played Saturday. Wulff estimated eight players were also in the line-up from last year’s 35-12 loss to St. Albert, when the firsts scored 32 unanswered points in the second half at Calgary.
“There is a little bit of a rivalry between us for sure,” Wulff said. “Good luck to them. We’ll see them in the final and with our full team I’m sure we’ll stick it to them.”
The Saints are 1-3 as they go through a developmental phase that Wulff hopes will culminate in a strong playoff run.
“What we’re trying to do is bring a couple of young guys up and give them a taste of what first div is like,” said the 29-year-old standoff. “We really don’t need to win any of the first couple of games. It’s what we do at the end of the season that really matters.”
On Saturday the firsts travel to Calgary to play the Canucks (2-1) at 3:30 p.m.
“It’s another big game. Road trips are always interesting and I’m looking forward to a hard battle,” said Jenni, 24, a high school rugby product of the Paul Kane Blues.