In what is always one of the most anticipated games on the high school rugby calendar, SMUS travelled to Oak Bay on April 10 to contest “the Boot”, a special trophy introduced by Gareth Rees.
Rees, who graduated from SMUS in 1985, went on to represent Canada in four consecutive Rugby World Cups and is the only Canadian who has been enshrined in the IRB Hall of Fame.
In the curtain-raiser, the SMUS Juniors, on the back of some enterprising play in the opening minutes into the teeth of a strong wind, took an early 10-0 lead before the hosts replied with three scores of their own to eventually lead 17-15 at halftime.
This two point margin was likely never to be enough, and indeed, this proved to be the case. SMUS ran in four second half tallies in short order to gain control 41-17, with a late consolation home try of no real significance.
For SMUS, fullback Mitchell Newman added two more tries to his rapidly growing season total, while flanker Myles Duncan also chipped in with a brace. Michael Cernucan, Carson Smith and Josh Graffi all added singles, with fly half Graeme Hyde-Lay notching three conversions.
Angus Catto, playing at loosehead prop for the first time, gave an assured performance, as did David Lee at left wing. Lock Aidan McCleary ran powerfully throughout.
The respective 1st XVs then kicked off, in front of the usual large and colourful crowd. This time, SMUS opened with the elements in its favour. The first twenty minutes featured the standard feeling out process, before fly half Dawit Workie opened the scoring with a simple penalty goal from 20 meters.
Oak Bay replied in decisive fashion, controlling the ball for long periods and being rewarded in the 33rd minute when lock James Carson powered over from in close.
Turning around 5-3 down and facing a significant wind, SMUS looked to be in real trouble. And yet, with pressure and territory relieving kicks not even an option, the players dug in, and, keeping to the narrow channels and displaying superb ball retention, limited Oak Bay’s options.
With twelve minutes remaining on the clock, SMUS’ one concerted rush up field paid dividends, as a series of forward drives allowed flanker Zach Kahn to squeeze through a maze of bodies to score under the posts. Workie added the extras and, improbably, SMUS led 10-5.
The final passages contained all the drama supporters have come to know and love from this hotly contested rivalry. Oak Bay dangermen Evan Cambridge and Conor McDiarmid on two occasions were almost through, only to be thwarted by superb tackles by first Mark Kiggundu and then Saeed Shokoya.
With just seconds left, Oak Bay launched one final attack, but it too foundered, with SMUS captain Sam Reid capping an inspired performance by booting the loose ball into the crowd. Against serious odds, SMUS had won the second half 7-0, and the game 10-5.
With the SMUS victory, the “Boot Game” series is again deadlocked, as, over the past 19 years, each school has won nine times. One match ended in a draw.
For SMUS, the front row of Alex Campbell, Shokoya and Matt Shin, assisted by Cole Tamburri, set a rock solid platform and stole one key scrum feed. David Boroto got through a mountain of work in defence, while fellow lock Matt Rud was again ultra steady in a pressure cooker environment. In the back row, Kahn and openside Clarence Choy tackled like demons, aided by No 8 Chris Bjola, who, in addition to claiming numerous key lineout throws, worked himself to exhaustion.
Behind the scrum, fly half Workie was a constant running threat, and, in harness with Reid, controlled play effectively when playing into the strong wind. Centres Dave Pollen and Keenan Manhas defended resolutely, while wings Kiggundu and Wayne Lin did not put a foot wrong out wide. At fullback, Michael Baart positioned himself well to deal with kicks, counterattacking with telling effect on several occasions.
The large contingent of SMUS fans also played a key role, willing the players on in the game’s final, frantic few minutes.
SMUS now looks forward to the Island 7s, to be held Sunday, April 14 at UVIC’s Centennial Stadium. A top four finish will be required to advance to the provincial event in two weeks time.