VICTORIA- The first half of last year’s BC Premier League schedule concluded with the University of Victoria Vikes men’s rugby team sitting near bottom on the standings with a record of 3-8. When the calendar flipped to 2018, the Vikes surged up the standings winning eight of their last nine games before being ousted by the Castaway Wanderers in the quarter-finals of the playoffs.

The Victoria Vikes are determined to not let history repeat itself in 2019.

Writing a similar script to last year, the Vikes once again seemed to find their stride in the second half of their season. After a narrow loss to the UBC Thunderbirds by a score of 28-23 on Jan. 12, the Vikes finished out their schedule winning six of their last seven games including a five game winning streak. Victoria scored an average of 72 points per game during that win streak, putting over 80 points on the board twice against Meraloma and the Seattle Saracens.

“We have played probably our best rugby these past six weeks and that game early in the year against UBC was a clear indication that we were finding our game despite the loss,” said Vikes head coach Doug Tate. “That being said we didn’t have the chance to play any of the top four teams during that time so this weekend will present a mental challenge for our guys.”

Doug Tate
The 2018-19 season marks the 25th season for Doug Tate as the head coach of the Vikes men’s varsity program.

The Vikes finished the season with an overall record of 10-6 to finish in fifth place to set up a rematch against the Castaway Wanderers in this year’s quarter-final.

“I definitely expect it to be both a fast and physical game this weekend,” mentioned Tate. “Both teams have a lot of fire power on offense and defense. We played them last year in this exact scenario and we killed ourselves by making too many mistakes. With the players they have they will punish us if we are careless and take too many penalties. The Wanderers have faced some tough opponents recently so the biggest challenge infront of us will be how we withstand the pressure they put on us since we haven’t felt much in our last few games.””

The Castaway Wanderers finished tied with the UBCOB Ravens in points with 66 and a 13-3 record but the Ravens took third place based on the point differential between the two teams this year. CW knocked off the Ravens back in October at Windsor Park in Victoria but the reigning BC Premier League champs returned the favour with a dominating victory at their home park, beating the Wanderers 48-14 at Jericho Park in Vancouver.

The Vikes and Castaway Wanderers met twice during the 2018-19 regular season. The Oak Bay based club bested UVic in their first meeting by a score of 36-14 and also took the second game by a slim margin of 12-7 under the lights at Centennial Stadium back in November.

Gradyn Bowd
Gradyn Bowd fending off Vike alumni Nathan Stewart when the two teams met in the 2017-18 season

“We are a better team now then were back in the fall,” expressed Tate. “These are some of the biggest scores we have put up in a long time over the last couple weeks so we know we can put points on the scoreboard. Defense will be what decides this game.”

The Castaway line up will be loaded with Vikes alumni on Saturday when the two sides meet. James Pitblado, Nathan Stewart, Fergus Hall and Clayton Thornber are just a few of the familiar faces that we expect to see suit up opposite the Vikes this weekend.

“Both sides will have players looking forward to this game given the connection between the players and the two clubs, ” said Tate. “Nathan Stewart always seems to have a good game against us.”

The Vikes head into the playoffs relatively healthy after enjoying a bye week during the final weekend of the regular season.

“We are still waiting on the availability for a few guys but we fully expect all of our regulars to play and make an impact on Saturday.”

MRUG Graduating Players 2019
Graduating players Oliver Nott, Crosby Stewart, Gradyn Bowd and Kapi Vataiki

The stage is set for the Vikes to exercise their demons from last year’s quarter-final loss as graduating players Gradyn Bowd, Kapi Vataiki, Crosby Stewart and Oliver Nott look lead Victoria to their first league championship since 2010.

“Our team has shown a huge amount of growth from last year in terms of maturity,” added Tate.”I have been really impressed with how our leadership group has guided the team through the year and I think we have a much more mobile squad with the ability to score from anywhere on the field.”

Saturday’s quarter-final match is scheduled to kick of at 2:30 p.m. at Windsor Park in Victoria. The winner will advance to play top seeded Burnaby Lake next weekend in Burnaby in the semifinals on Apr. 27.