May 20 2014 ISN – Oakville Ont. – It was a tale of two halves for the Ontario Blues on Victoria Day, as the province’s senior men’s developmental squad hung on to claim a 38-33 victory over the Atlantic Rock’s up-and-comers in a Canadian Rugby Championship preseason match in Oakville, Ont.

With both teams using the match to feature new and emerging players alongside a few CRC veterans, Ontario’s youthful legs presented the home supporters with a first half that revealed sheer athleticism, and a second half that revealed rookie inexperience.

Setting the tone early, Blues flanker Matt Kelly wasted no time getting on the scoresheet, notching a try in the very first minute of the match to give Ontario a 5-0 lead. However, the lead would be short-lived, as just minutes later, Rock fly-half back Colin Alexander capitalized on a Blues back line error to even the score at 5-5.

After an extended spell of back-and-forth play between the two sides, the floodgates opened for Ontario in the final fifteen minutes of first half: man-of-the-match Kelly scored his second and third tries of the half, while Andrew Coe and David Worsley also added tries, giving Ontario a commanding 31-5 lead.

With the pendulum of momentum swinging in Ontario’s favour for most of the opening half, the Rock’s Tony Pomroy gave the Maritimers a lifeline in the dying seconds of the first frame, scoring a try to cut Ontario’s lead to 31-10.

The late first-half try gave the Rock a jolt of inspiration at the whistle, and the Newfoundland-based squad began the second-half looking like a completely different team. Two early second-half tries by Walker Blizzard and Grant Crowell reduced Ontario’s lead to 31-20, with the Rock showing no signs of slowing down.

With the Rock continuously outmuscling Ontario, a third try of the half came 20 minutes into the frame, with Jack Thorburn crossing the whitewash to bring his side to within six points of the Blues.

A try by Blues front-row substitute Darryl Snider restored Ontario’s double-digit lead with ten minutes to play, but the Rock’s Alexander responded with his second try of the match just minutes afterwards, taking the score to 38-30.

Alexander, who had missed six conversion attempts earlier in the match, scored his first points with his boot with five minutes remaining, kicking a penalty to cut Ontario’s lead to just five points.

Despite sending wave after wave of forceful attacks deep into the Blues’ end in the final minutes of the match, the Rock could not complete their comeback, as Ontario weathered the storm to seal their 38-33 victory.

Within the youthful Ontario starting lineup, only veteran prop Rob Brouwer, No. 8 Cam Stones and halfbacks Andrew Ferguson and Matt Alexander had played in a full CRC match before, while teenagers Brendan Blaikie, Paul Ciulini, Max Van Dijk, Lucas Rumball and Andrew Coe all made their first start for a senior Blues side.

Although the match’s scoreline was closer than he would have liked, Blues head coach Chris Silverthorn says the play of his youngsters has him very optimistic for his program’s future.

“We have a lot of young guys who played fantastic, but they aren’t used to that kind of pressure for eighty minutes,” he said. “We played well in the first half, but had a tough time keeping possession in the second half, and it just goes to show that it’s never an easy game against the Rock, as they always go hard for 80 minutes.”

In all, fifteen Ontario rugby clubs were represented in the Blues’ Victoria Day developmental squad – a sign of elite rugby talent continuing to emerge across the province.

“It was a pleasant surprise for the Blues coaching staff, because we don’t pick our team based on what clubs they’re from,” said Blues manager Mark Winokur. “It’s picked based on who the best guys are, who’s putting in the hard work at training, and building this program for the future, so when we looked down at the squad list and saw that fifteen clubs were represented, it certainly wasn’t intentional, but it’s great to see.”

Ontario’s victory over the Atlantic Rock marks the second of three preseason games for the three-time defending Canadian national rugby champions. The Blues have a little over a month until their final preseason match; Ontario is set to take on the USA U23 XV, also known as the Collegiate All-Americans, in a game held in Canton, Mass. on June 28.

Ontario will kick off their Canadian Rugby Championship season against the Atlantic Rock on August 16 at Twin Elm Rugby Park in Ottawa.

Ontario Blues Score Report

Tries: Matt Kelly (3), Andrew Coe, Darryl Snider, David Worsley

Conversions: Andrew Ferguson (3), David Worsley

Atlantic Rock Score Report

Tries: Colin Alexander (2), Walker Blizzard, Grant Crowell, Tony Pomroy, Jack Thorburn

Penalties: Colin Alexander

Ontario Blues ‘A’ Side Lineup vs. Atlantic Rock ‘A’ Side – Name (Club)

1. Brendan Blaikie (Markham Irish)
2. Eric Selvaggi (Aurora Barbarians)
3. Rob Brouwer (Lindsay RFC)
4. Paul Ciulini (Aurora Barbarians)
5. Max Van Dijk (Oakville Crusaders)
6. Lucas Rumball (Balmy Beach)
7. Matt Kelly (Toronto Scottish)
8. Cam Stones (Ajax Wanderers)
9. Andrew Ferguson (Oakville Crusaders), Captain
10. Matt Alexander (Oshawa Vikings)
11. Kainoa Lloyd (Mississauga Blues)
12. Rich Lebel (Waterloo County)
13. David Worsley (Markham Irish)
14. Josh Campbell (London St. George’s)
15. Andrew Coe (Markham Irish)

16. Eric Howard (Brantford Harlequins)
17. Jacob Rumball (Balmy Beach)
18. Darryl Snider (Markham Irish)
19. Mac Kea (Lindsay RFC)
20. John Shaw (Bytown Blues)
21. Riley Di Nardo (Toronto Saracens)
22. Michael Douros (Balmy Beach)
23. Davor Stojanov (Stoney Creek)

Ontario Blues Team Staff

Chris Silverthorn – Head Coach
Paul Connelly – Assistant Coach
Paul Ambrose – Scrum Coach
Mark Winokur – Manager
Rodin Lozada – Performance Analyst
Chris Kelly – Athletic Therapist
Dr. Chris Gallimore – Team Doctor

Ontario Blues 2014 Match Schedule:

Saturday, May 3, 2014
Kick off: 4:00 p.m.
Bill Crothers Secondary School Field, Unionville, Ont.

Monday, May 19, 2014
Kick off: 1:00 p.m.
Crusaders Park, Oakville, Ont.

Saturday, June 28, 2014
Kick off: 2:30 p.m.
Irish Cultural Centre, Canton. Mass.

Saturday, August 16, 2014
Kick off: 4:30 p.m.
Twin Elm Rugby Park, Ottawa, Ont.

Thursday, September 4, 2014
Location: TBD

Sunday, September 7, 2014
Location: TBD

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Kick off: 8:00 p.m.
Alumni Field, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ont.

Sunday, September 21, 2014
Kick off: 1:00 p.m.
Nicholls Oval Park, Peterborough, Ont.

Saturday, September 27, 2014
Location: TBD

* denotes pre-season match