A winning combination of speed and youth overpowered the Cold Lake Penguins in third division men’s rugby Saturday.
“We’ve got a young team so if we’re running all the time a lot of these teams can’t keep up with us for the whole game,” St. Albert scrum-half Mike Eisinga said after the 18-10 decision by the Visser Cup finalists the last two years in the Edmonton Rugby Union (ERU). “We used our fitness to keep the ball moving and our speed to pressure them a lot.”
The thirds played fundamentally solid rugby against a big and mature side that was slower than molasses on the prestigious first field at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.
“We tried to limit our mistakes,” Eisinga said. “We had simple ball in the backs and swing it out wide and used our speed and youth to beat them.
“We also kicked deep ball to their fullback a lot and tried to pressure him.”
The thirds led 6-0 at halftime on penalty kicks by Eisinga in the fourth and 37th minutes. Distances were about the same outside the 22-metre line, with the second penalty slightly more towards the left than his straight-ahead boot to open the scoring.
Five minutes into the second half, a series of short passes towards the left side of the pitch resulted in a try by Troy Chartier. The smallish winger pulled down a rainbow ball from Eric Wynychuk in front of the 22 and sped down the touchline into the try area. Eisinga’s conversion put the thirds up by 13.
The Penguins got on the board with a crash ball off a five-metre scrum in the 52nd minute. The try was scored a minute after the thirds lost a player to the sin-bin for 10 minutes because of bad behaviour.
In the 55th minute, with the thirds short a player, Kiefer Hagen was on the receiving end of a perfect pass and after stepping out of a desperation tackle in front of the 22, the impressive outside-centre wheeled across the try line to make it 18-5.
An opportunistic try by the Penguins in the 71st minute rounded out the scoring.
Noteworthy performances among the thirds included Brandon Platten’s kicking exploits at standoff. Jon Anderson rattled off a couple of dangerous runs from the backs. Up front, Spencer Duff and fan favourite Eric Wynychuk played with fire in their bellies. Wynychuk was the oldest player on the pitch at 42.
“Everybody put in a consistent effort throughout the game,” said Eisinga, a slippery runner with a quick foot on the tap-and-go. “It was close at times but we were always pressuring them. Other than two breakdowns, we had them the whole game.”
The previous weekend in their home opener the thirds bolted into an early lead only to have the Druids of Strathcona rally late in the match to win 24-23.
“After losing a heartbreaker like that it drives you to do better and not make those same mistakes,” said Eisinga, who subbed on in the second half against the Druids at scrum-half.
The same core of thirds that battled the Druids also played the Penguins, who lost their ERU opener 50-12 to the Pirates (2-0).
“The difference between our two games was just another week of practice to gel. It’s early in the season and we’re working on the fundamentals. We’re getting better at those things and we made less mistakes today. We played the game we wanted to play and we did it for the whole game. Last week we just kind of let up in the last 10 minutes and it cost us,” said Eisinga, 30, a Paul Kane High School rugby product who played eight years with the Fort McMurray Knights before hooking up with St. Albert this year.
The thirds are coming off consecutive third-place showings in league play and losses in the ERU finals. They finished 10-5 overall last year after going 11-6-1 in 2008.
“It’s a good feeling to win today. Hopefully we can work and build on it and continue it for the rest of the year.”
The thirds scrum down Friday against the Lep/Tigers (1-0). Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Ellerslie Rugby Park.