Thunderbirds kick off Wightman Boot defence on Saturday

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UBC vs Victoria Rugby


VANCOUVER, BC – The newly-promoted UBC Thunderbirds (2-0) men’s rugby team will kick off their Wightman Boot title defence this weekend against storied rivals UVic Vikes (2-0) in round three of the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League. After a 17-year drought, the Birds claimed the coveted inter-university trophy last January, producing an emphatic 22-8 win over the Vikes at Wolfson Field to take the 2013-14 series by a 51-24 accumulated score. 

MATCH DETAILS – WIGHTMAN BOOT:

Sat. October 25, 2014 

UVic Vikes at UBC Thunderbirds (UBC Wolfson Fields) 2:45pm

UVic Norsement at UBC Braves (UBC Wolfson Fields) 1:00pm

UVic Jutes at UBC U20s (UBC Wolfson Fields) 11:30am
Event also includes Third Division fixture Scribes at UBC Totems (Wolfson Fields) 11:30am

Arguably the top two university rugby programs in the country, the Birds and Vikes have faced off regularly in both 15s and 7s in recent months, clashing in numerous tournament Cup Finals. In 2014, UBC saw off the Vikes in the Cup Final of the Las Vegas Invitational in January before the Vikes returned the favour a few months later in the Cup Final of the National University Sevens in Langford. Competing in the Okanagan Spring Brewery League (15s) last Spring, the Birds went on to lift the Province Cup and earned promotion back to the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League.

Building on their 2014 success, which also included a World Cup series win over American rivals Cal Bears, UBC’s program underwent a heavy recruitment this past summer and has enlisted some of the top players available in the country. 

Their 2014-15 season has seen them jump out to 2-0 with a 26-17 win over Castaway Wanderers and a 34-27 over Vancouver Rowing Club. The question they keep getting asked, after being back in the top flight for the first time since 2010, is can they sustain their current form? 

“Whether you’re at the top of the division or you’re at the bottom, any time you’re in the Premiership you have to have the attitude that you belong there,” said UBC head coach Rameses Langston. “We can’t get wrapped up in the fact that we’re a young university team and that we might be seen as a one time shot. We definitely feel like we belong here and I know our best rugby is still ahead of us.” 

Langston’s roster was reinforced by a bevy of provincial team recruits this summer, some who may feature in this weekend’s matchup. With 44 varsity players and over 100 registered in the program, the squad has the depth to remain competitive through May. 

“There has been an important culture change and you can see that through the attitude of the players coming in and everyone involved,” Langston added. “The guys understand the work it takes to play at this level and you can see the level of commitment at training, around the clubhouse and on Saturdays.” 

UBC’s veterans include James Thompson, former Canada U20 captain Connor Hamilton, Charlie Thorpe, BC Bears reps Brock Staller and Bryan Tyrer, as well as Canada Maple Leaf Sevens standout Jorden Sandover-Best. Incoming players include BC U18 provincial grads Nakai Penny and Theo Sauder, as well as numerous rookies that have been challenging veterans for roster spots. 

The back line will be tested against the Vikes, but with Eric Hunter-James and Liam Murphy-Burke on the wings, and Andrew Coe in the mix, the squad will have  plenty of firepower to draw from. 

“We’re in for a tough match,” said UBC forwards coach Curry Hitchborn. “They hung on to the boot for 17 years and I would imagine [Vikes] coach Doug Tate has done a lot of prep to get it back.” 

The Vikes have also jumped out to a 2-0 CDI Premier League start handing reigning Rounsefell Cup champions James Bay a 27-19 loss on opening week, before following that up with a 33-19 win over Castaway Wanderers on October 18. 

Like UBC, their roster is chock full of provincial and national team players, bolstered by the return of Canada-A rep Pat Kay who has been competing in the Americas Rugby Championship. The Vikes will also have Canada Sevens flyers Justin Douglas and Lucas Hammond in their back line, featuring alongside veterans Fergus Hall, Dustin Dobravsky and Ollie Nott. The Vikes’ pack also features Shea Wakefield, a Victoria native coming off a summer campaign with the BC Bears senior men’s provincial team. 

The two sides have seen each other in sevens competition already this Fall, with the Vikes edging the Birds in the Cup Final of the Western Washington Sevens in late September. 

Saturday’s schedule will include a full slate of four rugby games with the U20s, Braves and Birds all facing off against UVic, and the Totems taking on the Scribes in Third Division play. 

NOTE: Round two of the Wightman Boot series is scheduled for February 7, 2014 at UVic’s Wallace Field. 

About the Wightman Boot

More commonly known as “The Boot”, the home-and-home series played between the province’s top university rugby programs will be in its 44th edition this year. The annual competition was named after the late Brian Wightman, who was at the helm of the Thunderbirds from 1964-1967. The trophy for the annual competition features Wightman’s boot, which was stolen and bronzed by his players. The “Boot Game” has featured the Vikes and Thunderbirds every year since 1970 with the exception of the 1978-79 season when UBC hosted Stanford. The Vikes won 17 straight titles until conceding the Boot to the Birds in 2014.

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