by Andrew Smith
April 3, 2014, VANCOUVER, BC (ISN) – Just two weeks remain in the 2013-14 Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League regular season and with Burnaby Lake having already tied up the top seed, teams are currently jockeying for playoff positioning and home field advantage in the semifinals.
This weekend will see no.3 Capilano RFC (7-5, 36pts) head to Victoria for a clash with defending champions no.2 James Bay (8-4, 42pts) at MacDonald Park. James Bay holds a six point lead in the standings and could lock up the second seed with a win on Saturday.
The no.5 Castaway Wanderers (5-7, 33pts) could clinch a playoff berth this weekend and with back-to-back wins could see themselves place third overall and prevent a semifinal trip to the Lower Mainland.
“Having home field advantage is huge, especially when it means you are able to stay on the Mainland or Island and not travel on the ferry,” said Capilano head coach Tom Larisch. “It’s at least a 10-point game when you factor in the trip.”
“It’s a big deal for your club to host a playoff game both competition-wise as well as financially,” Larisch added. “A home semifinal is a gravy game for your club and getting people in the stands for one last time before the finals is really important.”
Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League – Sat. April 5th:
Vancouver Rowing Club at Burnaby Lake (Burnaby Lake Sports Complex) 2:45pm
Capilano RFC at James Bay AA (MacDonald Park) 2:45pm
UBCOB Ravens at UVic Vikes (Wallace Field) 2:45pm
Meraloma at Castaway Wanderers (Windsor Park) 2:45pm
Outside of the top and bottom teams, the Premier League has been a close competition this year with just three wins separating the second and seventh ranked sides.
Capilano and James Bay’s storied rivalry will take centre stage on Saturday as the Bays look to avenge a 14-7 loss they suffered at Klahanie Park back on November 16th.
“James Bay at home is always a tall task. They’re a very well drilled team and play with a lot of heart,” Larisch said. “They are a solid team that seems to find a way to attract the rep talent from across the country to play for them. Whether or not they have their (Canadian national) sevens guys in they mix, they will be a formidable team.”
The Bays have relied on steady performances from a veteran core along with several new additions capped at the national level with Canada and the USA Eagles. Canada under-20 grad Taylor Dalziel, a Capilano and UBC product, has racked up a league-best 10 tries for JBAA. Canada-A and under-20 grad Clayton Meeres sits 13th in league scoring with 40 points. The Bays have also seen veterans Spencer Dalziel, Jim de Goede and Noah Barker put in solid performances week in and week out as they have featured in all but one game this season.
Like many of their opponents, Capilano’s player pool is being pushed to the limit with two games left in the season. Captain Glen McKinnon continues to lead the team from no.8 and flanker Gareth Dyer is earning a reputation as a heavy-hitter at open side flanker. Their back line has lost Charlie Jones for the near future due to injury, but that has opened the door for other players to step up into the Premier roster Larisch said. Add in Canada sevens prospect Adam Zaruba who has suited up at wing and centre this year and Capilano appear to have a formidable core intact with playoffs just around the corner.
“This is really a tough part of the year and it’s now a battle of attrition,” Larisch added. “It’s tough to get the same lineup out there every week as players start to get bruised and battered.”
“But it’s the same for everyone and we will do the best we can,” Larish said. “We rely on Glen who is a workhorse every week for us. Adam [Zaruba] is a guy who can make a huge difference when he gets his hands on the ball. He has adjusted well from moving to the backs and it’s important that we continue to put him into space and allow him to grow as a runner which is what Rugby Canada is hoping to see from him.”
Victoria will play host to three league games this weekend as the Castaway Wanderers look to continue their climb up the league table. CW are set to host Meraloma (0-12) at Windsor Park and will be looking to clinch a playoff berth. Sitting seven points back, the no.5 UBCOB Ravens (5-7) head to Wallace Field for a clash with the no.6 UVic Vikes (5-6). The Ravens need two wins to finish off the season to stay in the hunt.
The only Premier League fixture on the Lower Mainland will see the no.7 Vancouver Rowing Club (5-7) away to top-ranked Burnaby Lake (11-1). The final result won’t impact Burnaby’s title hopes but it could launch Rowers into fifth place.
“It’s a tough competition because it’s been anyone’s game this year,” said Larisch. “Burnaby are deservedly the first place team in the standings and they deserve a ton of credit for building with the same group of guys and really putting emphasis on club development. James Bay are always strong but the danger team right now is really Castaway Wanderers who are a completely different looking squad than the first half of the season. They’re hot right now and we wouldn’t want to match up with them in the playoffs.”
Premier League Qualification
With the 2013-14 league season winding down, qualification for the Premier League is heating up.
Two teams in the hunt for qualification are Lower Mainland sides UBC Thunderbirds (13-0) and Seattle RFC (13-1). Both have clinched playoff berths but are currently competing for the Okanagan Spring Brewery League title. The winner of the provincial First Division playoffs (including representation from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island) will earn promotion to the province’s top flight. Seattle’s one loss this season came at the hands of UBC on November 23rd with the Thunderbirds recording a 29-12 victory. The ‘Birds will be without a number of Canada under-20 reps who are in Hong Kong for the 2014 Junior World Rugby Trophy. The students have shown they have the depth to compete, however, as they beat Cal Bears in the World Cup fixture in March missing a number of key standouts. Kickoff for the clash at UBC Wolfson Fields is scheduled for 2:30pm on Saturday, April 5th.
Vancouver Island’s First Division competition has also seen two leaders emerge with Cowichan (10-2-1) and Velox (9-3-1) looking strong heading into their final round of games before regional playoffs. Cowichan are just one point clear of Velox in the standings and are riding a three game win streak. The two sides are set to square off this weekend at Cowichan Rugby Club on Saturday at 2:30pm.