December 1st was the last time your Surrey Beavers had played any rugby. It seems inconceivable that it has been 8 weeks without real competition. Training started January 8 when we began to shake out the cobwebs, knock off the rust, and run off the turkey dinners.
The much delayed third division schedule was released, and the coaching staff perused the match ups and planned requirements for the upcoming half. The schedule makers had Surrey on the road in Week 1 of the second half, with the Firsts playing against the Bayside Sharks, the third leg of the back to back to back 'rubber match', to steal a term from the card game 'Bridge'. Other equally applicable terms that apply are, 'third time is the charm', 'familiarity breeds contempt', and 'keep your friends close and your enemies even closer'. The Thirsty Thirds were on the road at the opposite end of the Fraser Valley in Chilliwack against the Crusaders.
SBAA 3rd Division vs Chilliwack RFC – Loss 0-59
The Thirds drove to Yarrow to face a Chilliwack club who have been in the top few slots of the standings. Surrey knew they were going to be in tough, but when SBAA Director of Rugby Kevin Taylor advised the 3rds coaching staff that the Crusaders were welcoming home a player of theirs who had been playing overseas, things were going to be much tougher. Beavers coaches chose not to advise the predominantly young team of the presence of this talented threat to stave off pregame anxiety. The pitch itself, never great at the best of times, had mole hills and mole holes that had to be levelled manually by shovel prior to play. Captain Jordan Sousa led his side onto the pitch for the kick off and the home team ran it back for a try with the aforementioned overseas outside center finishing from midfield. His cover was blown inside a minute and mental notes were made, however the rout was on. Soon the injuries started to add up, with 5-Andrew Johnson and 9-Nick Parsons being knocked out of the game and the Beavers playing with 14 players. The Crusaders managed 6 tries in the first half for a 38-0 lead at the break. Two other players reported nagging injuries that they would come out of the game for, except there were no subs. The coach decided that with the score being out of control and with 2 players out of the game and 2 more players hurt, it didn't make sense to get more people hurt, especially with a thin club roster as it is and young inexperienced players on the pitch. We couldn't afford to lose more players. The game was called 10 minutes into the second half after Chilliwack ran up 3 more tries for a total score of 57-0. It was a regrettable situation, but a decision made for the benefit of the club and the safety of the players present. It just meant that beer and food came on that much sooner.
SBAA 1st Division vs Bayside RFC – Loss 27-32
Both teams knew a very hard physical game was ahead of them, if any of the previous 2 encounters had anything to teach. The match started with both teams getting stuck in directly and it was clear this was going to live up to the billing. The Beavers blinked first and gave up an early try and convert after some soft tackling in their 22 meter. This appeared to get the Beavers attention as they worked harder to contain the ball on offence. This pressure would pay off as the Sharks were forced into taking a penalty within the legs reach of Brandon "The Cat" Gatto, who struck an accurate kick to open the Beaver account on the score board. A few minutes later Gatto, playing at 10, picked off an errant pass and ran it back for a try from 40 meters. It was an outstanding individual effort by Gatto. After gaining his breath Brandon converted for his own score, setting things right with a 10-7 lead. Illustrating the value of the penalty kick in the currency of the modern game. Surrey was now fully on the front foot and had regained composure after the initial set back. Before too long the Surrey aggression continued to create opportunities for offence and Bayside was again forced into a penalty in their own end. This time however the angle & distance were just a bit off and the very consistent Gatto pulled the effort just a shade wide. The Sharks came back with a frenzy of activity, pun intended. The Sharks but took another penalty inside the Surrey 22. However, the Beaver kick for touch didn't find the sideline and the visitors were not set at all for the counter attack. Bayside organized a long ramble from midfield using runners and off loads to bang a try down the collective Beaver gullet. Once again, a steeled Surrey fought back a few minutes later with a run & ruck series of phases highlighted by Chris Atkinson and Steve "French" Friesen which was capped off with the try by Atkinson. The Gatto convert brought the score to 17-14 for the black clad visitors.
With about 12 minutes left in the 1st half Beavers' winger Riley Johnson and Bayside's blind side flanker got in a tussle. After some on the ground wrestling an initial strike by the Bayside player to Johnson’s shoulder was returned by a strike to the head. The referee had seen the whole thing and cards were given out. A red for the Beaver winger and a yellow to the Shark's flanker. Following 14-14 play for 10 minutes it would appear the Beavers would need to muscle up and play down a man for the remainder of the game. Fortunately for the Beavers, Bayside was no better disciplined than themselves and with about 5 minutes left in the 1st half another Bayside player received a yellow card after delaying play on a Beaver attack.
What had killed the Beavers by the end of the 1st half was not being able to leave the field with more points while up a man. The half ended with the Beaver 9 electing to kill the ball and find touch while the Beavers were inside Bayside’s 22. The poor discipline, several simple errors, and players not having any game awareness was adding up quickly for the Beavers.
The second half promised to offer more of the same as the first, and no one was disappointed on the sideline. It didn't take long for Bayside to strike, again after some soft tackling inside the Beavers 22. It hurt the Beavers more that they got scored on while still up a man. A fine run from the Sharks 10 set up a try, but the subsequent convert was missed, passing up important points. Bayside was on the ascendancy and Surrey was figuring out how to manage their play. The numbers were even at 14 again when the Beavers found themselves deep inside Shark territory. Bayside found a way again to profit off a penalty for a Surrey high tackle and score a try running on some momentarily suspect defense. The convert was again missed leaving valuable points off the scoreboard, much to the liking of the Beaver faithful. The score stood at 24-17 for Bayside. Surrey was not to be denied and put together a series of phases that resulted in Chris Atkinson topping off the festivities with his second try on the day. On multiple occasions the Beavers found themselves knocking on the Sharks doorstep trying to bang in the try. Brandon Gatto stood tall on the convert tying up the match again 24-24.
The Sharks now seeing the game tied took their shot at points and took advantage of some good field position and slotting a kick to make it 24-27 in favor of the home side. The Beavers not relenting on attack found themselves again deep in Beaver territory down a man. A turnover for the Sharks on their goal line made for a clearing kick from their 10. Flanker Paul Kelly held up on his tackle attempt on the 10, but the 10 flopped onto the ground looking like a shark out of water. The Bayside 10’s trap was set, and he suckered the referee into giving the Beaver hooker Dylan Vermette a late hit penalty that resulted in a yellow card. The fact was Dylan was nowhere near the incident that had apparently occurred. Unfortunate to see diving like that in a sport that likes to think it is played by good sports and not softies. It is unfortunate that a play like that could have such an impact on a game like on Saturday.
The yellow card didn’t stop the Beavers though, now down to 13 men they kept playing on. Kelly seeing an opportunity at about mid-field to take a quick penalty and trying to move the penalty mark up the field even more was successful in doing so. With about 2.5 minutes left in the match the Beavers were now right in Gatto’s range for a penalty convert. Gatto confidently struck a beautiful ball that resulted in the game being tied up 27-27. All the visitors had to do was recover the ensuing kickoff and control the ball for about a minute left of play. The kickoff was recovered nicely but the ball was turned over on the Beavers 40, and a nicely placed kick by Bayside pushed the Beavers with no option but to bring back the ball into their in-goal and touch it down resulting in a Sharks 5-meter scrum with no time left. The Sharks took full advantage and used the overlap off the scrum and scored in the far corner. The final score was 32-27, with Surrey leaving 2 penalty kicks for 6 points on the table and Bayside missing 3 converts for 6 points unclaimed.
This was a tough loss for the 1sts, as they certainly played well enough to win even though they were depleted to 13 players. This third game of the series deserved to be a tie, but the game was full of sloppy play on both sides of the ball. It should be a much better match later in Spring when the two clubs see each other again on April 6, hopefully with their game skills a little more polished.
Tries: Brandon Gatto(1) Chris Atkinson(2)
Converts: Brandon Gatto(3)
Penalty Converts: Brandon Gatto(2)
In the greater view of the world of sport, the games themselves are a measure of the players. The things measured are tangible such as skill and ability and intangible such as heart and character. On days such as Saturday January 26, these are the days that either build character or expose character. The 3rds took a thumping, physically and on the scoreboard, but even when hurt and out gunned they continued fighting on. The 1sts had a lot of adversity, with missing 3 starters in the backs and being whittled down to 13 players before finally breaking and giving up the final points of the game. In a match that still could have gone either way, as there wasn't much to pick from between the two teams. All around it was a humbling day that built the character of those involved and it was NOT a day that exposed any weakness