On a perfect evening for rugby, in front of a large and boisterous crowd of some 800 at UVic’s Centennial Stadium, the SMUS 1st XV upset the form chart with a thrilling 23-14 Boot Game win over favoured opponent Oak Bay.
The “Boot”, played for between the two schools since 1995 and sponsored by SMUS alumnus and four-time Canadian World Cup star Gareth Rees ’85, remains one of the highlights of the annual sporting calendar. This year’s contest, with SMUS now leading the series 10-9-1, certainly did not disappoint.
Indeed, SMUS was hot on attack in the opening minutes, playing at speed, spreading the ball wide on every possible occasion and severely stretching the opposition’s defense. A Michael Baart penalty goal in the fifth minute was a deserved reward for this early pressure, with the lead then extending to 10-0 when flanker Saeed Shokoya thundered home from 40 metres out after more multi-phase play.
Oak Bay fought back, but could not break a resolute SMUS defense. When Aidan McCleary powered home for a try, with Baart adding the conversion and then a second penalty goal, the scoreline moved to a quite unexpected 20-0.
The second half was also packed with drama. SMUS took the initiative, making multiple line breaks in the first 10 minutes but failing to make the last crucial pass with overlaps beckoning. Baart did add a third penalty goal, but the 23 point margin could, and perhaps should, have been more.
Inevitably, the momentum shifted, and, in the game’s final quarter, a desperate Oak Bay took control and dominated play. A converted try took the scoreline to 23-7, with a second tally and the extras soon to follow. With several minutes still left on the clock, it was now 23-14. SMUS defenders were literally out on their feet, with only some desperate scramble defence and hurried clearances keeping the Barbarians at bay.
Then, it was all over. One last tackle, one last turnover and one last kick to touch brought the final whistle from referee Dan Beattie.
In what was a comprehensive team effort, props Noah Pryce-Baff and Dante Morandin set a solid platform against much bigger opponents, while hooker Mac Valentine, deputizing for the injured Matt Shin, took Man of the Match honours with a sterling all-round display. Likewise, locks Matt Rud and Aidan McCleary enjoyed their best ever performances in a SMUS jersey, with captain Zach Kahn and fellow flanker David Boroto running miles in both attack and defense. Off the bench, newcomer Warren Marriott also did extremely well, coming on late in the first half when the influential Shokoya had to withdraw due to a hamstring strain.
In the backs, scrum-half Carson Smith performed wonderfully, forming a solid halfback partnership with Graeme Hyde-Lay. As advertised, centres Mitchell Newman and Max Pollen ran strongly and tackled ferociously. On the outside, Owen Sudul and Jacob Wilson-Potter both ran cleverly and dealt efficiently with a whole series of blind side attacks and high kicks. At fullback, Baart put in some telling long punts, and crucially kept the scoreboard ticking over with perfect place kicking.
Michael Cernucan and Liam Catto also made second-half appearances and did their part. A handful of players did not see game action, but were very valued for their roles in the training buildup for the game.
With the win, SMUS should move up the BC AA rankings, with a chance to make a further statement April 17 when #1-ranked Collingwood pays a visit.