vk men rugby

By Andrew Smith, UBC Rugby

VANCOUVER – It will be a case of winner takes all on Saturday, or in this case, winner takes the ‘Boot.’

After a six-week winter break, club rugby resumes in British Columbia with a clash between the province’s top men’s programs when the Victoria Vikes travel to Vancouver to face the UBC Thunderbirds in their annual Wightman Boot series, which switched to a single-game format this year. Featuring the 2015 Vancouver Island champion Vikes against the ’15 Lower Mainland champs UBC, the afternoon tilt will also mark the first time these two sides have faced each other since the Birds were victorious in the 2015 BC Premier League Rounsefell Cup Final.

Saturday, January 16, 2015
UVic Vikes at UBC Thunderbirds (UBC Ken Woods Field, Vancouver) 2:30 p.m.
UVic Norsemen at UBC Braves (UBC Ken Woods Field, Vancouver) 12:45 p.m.

While the ‘Birds have held the upper hand in recent clashes going 3-0 against their storied rivals in 2015 play, the Boot Game for many years was a match where Victoria repeatedly staked their claim as the top university program in the province. For 17 straight years, UVic took the spoils of the trophy, named after the late Brian Wightman whose players once stole and bronzed his boot in what would become one of the most coveted pieces of hardware in university rugby. In 2014, the tides turned when UBC took home the title, taking both the home and away clashes in the annual series (NOTE: 2016 Will be a one match takes all decider). The ‘Birds retained the trophy in 2015, winning the second leg of the series 23-19 in Victoria to post an aggregate score of 53-38.

With a new year and impressive recruitments of young talent added to their ranks, a new season beckons as both teams look to repeat their successes of the 2015 Premier League runs. The Boot Game on Saturday will also serve as the 2016 CDI Premier League Season opener as the teams look to make a statement to kick off competition in the province’s top club rugby competition.

Scouting the Thunderbirds
2015 featured plenty of triumphs for the UBC Thunderbirds varsity rugby program as their return to BC Premier League play ended in a provincial Rounsefell Cup title, a second straight World Cup title against American rivals California Golden Bears and a second successive Wightman Boot title.

The ‘Birds have since opened the 2015 school year with a third place showing at the World University Rugby Cup where they recorded a historic 20-10 victory over New Zealand Universities in the pool rounds before downing hosts Oxford University in the third-fourth playoff. They returned to Vancouver and rallied off eight straight wins (2-0 playoffs) in regional play, eventually downing Burnaby Lake 20-0 in the Miller Cup final. The program recently had nine players seconded to the Under-20 national team camp as well as selections for the Canadian Sevens Maple Leaf squad.

“There is no shortage of guys with character and talent on this team,” said Thunderbirds head coach Rameses Langston when asked about the top contributors this season. “Brock Staller, who is a senior, has been a particular guy who has shown complete buy-in and I’ve been really impressed by him. Another player making progress in the backs is Cully Quirke, who has been playing at outside centre.”

“[Assistant Coach] Curry Hitchborn has been doing some amazing work with our forwards and deserves some recognition,” Langston added. “He has been here for three years and together we’re really starting to see real strength and consistency in this group of players. Forwards Mike O’Toole and Sam Clark don’t always get the limelight but those are the kind of guys that are out there doing their jobs with maximum effort. We are a very well-balanced team.”

Heading into the 2016 opener, Langston said, “I’m expecting [UVic] to throw the ball around as they’re very fast and super dynamic. Our guys are up for it on a player level and they see [the Boot] as a big challenge. But really it’s more about getting off to a good start.”

Scouting the Vikes
Doug Tate had similar thoughts on Saturday’s clash and said, “The guys really know [UBC] well as they’ve played against each other in the past and it’s good to get started against them. [UBC] are a very athletic team. We saw it last year and we know they’re a good defensive team and that they can score from almost anywhere.”

Expecting a game with plenty of pace and power, Tate added, “Both teams are very capable of turning the ball over.”

Key players who powered the Vikes to an undefeated Vancouver Island Barnard Cup title in the fall were Liam Chisolm and Ollie Nott. A key player to also keep an eye on this weekend is outside half Grady Bowd, a native of Red Deer, Alta.

The Vikes are looking to build momentum into the first half of their Premier League season, prior to touring Australia in February where they’ll be facing Mayweather and Eastern Suburbs.