It has been a superb season for the Grade 7/8, seven-a-side rugby team and coaches. After a stellar regular season, the team held a record of seven wins, zero losses and one tie. The boys were poised for an exciting final citywide tournament recently, hosted by SMUS.
There were 12 teams from around the city competing in the under-155lbs division. They were all vying for the coveted Kuklinski Cup – named by the coaches around the city in appreciation of all the hard work done by SMUS Phys. Ed teacher Bruce Kuklinski as the LIMSSA commissioner for rugby.
The opening game of the tournament was against Glenlyon Norfolk School, and while SMUS got the better of this friendly rivalry, the win was not without some fierce tackling by the boys. North Saanich was up next, but the relentless tackling by Sascha S., combined with SMUS’s organization and skillful passing, was too much for the opposition. The win elevated SMUS into the cup quarterfinals against a strong Monterey team.
In regular season play versus Monterey, SMUS enjoyed a narrow victory, so this match-up was certainly an enticing one. The SMUS team showed continual improvement throughout the tournament and this game was another strong sign of development. The superior handling skills and offloading abilities proved too much for Monterey and SMUS came out ahead.
The cup semi-final was next and SMUS was paired against a Glanford side known for hard running and tough physical play. The SMUS boys were equal to the task and displayed one of their top performances of the season. Bolstered by a field lined with their cheering peers, parents and teachers, the SMUS team was ferocious in the tackle and breakdown, while remaining calm and collected with the ball in hand. The cheers of the crowd truly inspired the players, and afterwards many remarked how amazing it was to hear the excitement of the crowd. With a win over Glanford, SMUS was well positioned to achieve their goal of winning the Kuklinski Cup. Only a match-up against Gordon Head Middle School — a team that had inflicted the only regular season blemish (a tie) on SMUS’s record — stood in their way
Needless to say, the boys felt this felt was “unfinished business.” Right from the kickoff, SMUS continued their tough tackling and wide sideline-to-sideline passing that had been their hallmark throughout the tournament. Despite their passionate and skillful play, Gordon Head scored first when one of their strong runners made a long break down the right wing. SMUS struck back quickly as Darius R. rumbled through a couple of defenders and over the line for a try. However, Gordon Head responded with two tries to give them a 3-1 lead going into the second half. A battered and dejected group of SMUS players came off the field, but some spirited halftime conversation seemed to rekindle their passion.
The boys responded with a dynamic run by Ben S. to bring the score to 3-2 and then an important intercept try by Will K. tied it up at three apiece. The momentum was shifting in SMUS’s favour and Ben S. helped SMUS take the lead with a very quick pick up off the base of the scrum to score in the blindside corner; a clever move that he had exploited teams with all year. The lead was short-lived, however, as Gordon Head found some inspiration of their own from a long try to tie it back up at four tries each and only two minutes remaining in regular time. The intensity of the game was incredible and perhaps composure was what lifted SMUS in the final minute. Gordon Head took a penalty 10 metres out from their line and a very determined Max N. ran through four different Gordon Head defenders to dot down over the line. The score propelled SMUS to a 5-4 lead with 30 seconds remaining. The boys managed to regain possession and when the ref signaled for the last play of the game, a quick thinking Ben S. took the ball out of bounds to secure the victory and the Kuklinski Cup!
On behalf of the coaching staff, a huge thank you goes out to all the parents who have supported the team on the sidelines and at home. We would also like to thank the players for all their hard work throughout the year. On more than one occasion, it was clear that the structure and organization demonstrated by the boys was a difference maker. They were able to play a wide game because they had worked hard on the fundamental skills that are so important at this age. Fitness was also a focus throughout the year and the hard work was evident in each game they took the field.
The coaching staff is incredibly proud of this group of boys who showed so much determination to compete and to improve all year. We would like to wish the Grade 8s all the best in their rugby careers as they move on to play at the Senior School.
(photo by Jody Nishima; video by George Floyd)