Vikes battle back to win men’s rugby national championship

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A fantastic battle between two long-time rivals came down to a last-second kick by Max Radcliffe.

The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds first-year scrum half lined up his kick, took his time, but missed left.

With no time on the clock, the University of Victoria Vikes dethroned the two-time defending Canadian University Men’s Rugby champions 21-20 on Sunday morning at Sherbooke Field.

For the Vikes, it was their first title since the tournament returned two years ago. They previously won the national championship in 1997 and 1998, before the tournament went on a hiatus. The Vikes have left this tournament with a silver and bronze in each of the past two championships.

The Thunderbirds trailed 21-15 with less than a minute remaining in regulation. With possession, they needed a try and the convert to retain their national title.

Exhausted and without their captain James O’Neill after he drew a yellow card, the Vikes defence battled and tried to force a turnover. While they allowed a last-second try, they forced UBC to the outside and more challenging kick from the corner.

With no time on the clock, Radcliffe lined up his kick on the right sideline, took his time, but hooked it left.

An unbelievable game, the Vikes had to bounce back after the Thunderbirds jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first half.

Luckily for the Vikes, they were used to coming from behind against the Thunderbirds.

The last time the Vikes and Thunderbirds locked horns, UBC jumped out to an early 20-3 lead at half during B.C. Men’s Rugby Premier League action. Regrouping during the break, the Vikes won the second half, but still lost 28-22 back on Oct. 11 at Wallace Field.

Five minutes into the first half, the Thunderbirds struck first when Dan Archer faked a pass, found a gap and ran 40 yards for the try.

The Thunderbirds got a foot on the ball in a ruck 10 minutes into the first half, which awarded the Vikes a penalty goal. Setting up from the 20-yard line, Jenner Teufel pushed his first kick slightly left of the uprights – the same uprights Radcliffe later missed on.

Off a booming kick midway through the first half, the Thunderbirds chewed up yardage in Vikes’ territory. Grinding the ball down towards the try line, the T-birds took their time and squeezed the ball over the line for their second try by Nick Allen. This time, Jack Scher completed the convert.

The Thunderbirds earned a yellow card with eight minutes remaining in the first half after committing a penalty in a maul. The Vikes capitalized on the man-advantage 10 yards out when Logan Martin-Feek drove forward and found O’Neill right before going down. The fourth-year Albertan used a stutter step to create space before plunging into the end zone right underneath the uprights. Teufel completed the convert to bring the Vikes within five points.

Five minutes later, O’Neill was rumbling and bumbling, looking to tie it up. He was running out of steam when Lockie Kratz came in behind to provide the extra oomph to get over the line. Teufel drilled his kick from the side to give the Vikes a 14-12 lead into halftime.

The Thunderbirds were marching in the second half and tried to chip it up the field deep into Vikes’ territory. They recovered their own kick, but O’Neill was there to intercept an offload on his own five-yard line.

Forced to kick, the Vikes forced another turnover after some poor passing by the Thunderbirds. A bobbled feed was scooped up by Martin-Feek, as he sent the Vikes heading the other direction with some speed.

The Thunderbirds didn’t go away easily, as Jack Scheer, delivered a penalty goal with 13 minutes remaining in regulation to give the T-birds a one-point lead.

The lead was only temporary, as the Vikes used a few pick-and-gos from Kratz and Ben Newhook, to bring the ball within a few yards of the end zone. Making the final push was Nick Carson, as he barrelled in for the try.

With seven minutes remaining, Thomas Di Fiore jumped on a UBC fumble and marched back up field. Teufel tried to catch the Thunderbirds napping after a penalty and tried to dart in for the try, but the last line of defence stuffed him short of another try.

After the game, a few of the Vikes were recognized as tournament All-Stars.

Named to the First Team All-Star list was Newhook, O’Neill and Martin-Feek. Vikes on the Spencer Cooper was the lone Vike named a Second Team All-Star.

The national champions return home and resume regular season action on Nov. 30, when they host the Westshore Valhallians (2:30 p.m.) at Wallace Field.

SCORING SUMMARY

VIC: 14-7–21
UBC: 12-8—20

FIRST HALF
05′ – UBC – Try – Dan Archer (Convert missed) 5-0
15′ – UBC – Try – Nick Allen (Convert Jack Scher) 12-0
25′ – VIC – Try – James O’Neill (Convert Jenner Teufel) 12-7
29′ – VIC – Try – James O’Neill (Convert Jenner Teufel) 14-12

SECOND HALF
49′ – UBC – PG – Jack Scher 15-14
51′ – VIC – Try – Nick Carson (Convert Jenner Teufel) 21-15
60′ – UBC– Try – Evan Norris (Convert missed) 21-20

GAME MVPs
VIC – James O’Neill
UBC – Mike Smith