The curtain closed on the Springbank Phoenix boys’ rugby 15s campaign in dramatic fashion May 28, with a semi-final defeat in drop kicks to the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir Spartans at Calgary Rugby Union Park.
It was a competitive encounter between two evenly-matched teams in the Big Sky high school boys’ rugby league. The match ended in a 29-29 tie following a late comeback by the Phoenix.
“I’ve coached club rugby for a long time, and that was as good a game as I’ve seen,” said Mike Padley, the head coach of the Phoenix boys’ rugby program. “It was well-played and hard-fought.”
While Springbank took a two-try lead into the halftime break, the Spartans rallied back to score four consecutive tries in the second interval. A slew of missed tackles from the Phoenix was the team’s detriment, as the Spartans’ attack continually found its way behind Springbank’s goal line.
“We just weren’t quite as sharp on defence,” Padley said. “Because Strathcona is a good team, they’ll make you pay for it. A lot of other teams, you don’t have to tackle quite as sharp, and you get away with it.”
Boasting a two-try lead with just a few minutes to play, the win seemed all but secured for Strathcona-Tweedsmuir.
But left winger Liam Furlong found a bit more gas in the tank, scoring two lung-bursting tries for the Phoenix in the final five minutes – including one on the final play of the game – to force overtime.
“I just got the ball and ran,” said Furlong, a Grade-10 student who also plays AAA minor midget hockey. “That’s what I’m good at – running fast in a straight line.
“I play a lot of hockey, so I know how to conserve my energy and use it in small bursts. When I get my chance, I just go, and I go really hard.”
With the score tied at 29-29, the game entered a five-minute, sudden-death overtime period. While the ball spent most of the interval deep in the Phoenix’s territory, the Spartans’ attack was unable to capitalize within the short time frame.
That meant the game had to be decided by a tiebreaker, with both teams selecting three players to drop-kick the ball between the uprights from the 22-metre line. The Spartans won the best-of-three tiebreaker to book its place in the Big Sky final.
Despite the defeat, Padley said his players were in high spirits following the semi-final. The Phoenix ended the season with a 4-2 record in the Big Sky league, which includes high school rugby teams from communities such as Okotoks, High River, Black Diamond, Strathmore and Banff.
The Spartans advanced to the Big Sky final to face the Bow Valley Bobcats with a berth in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association provincial rugby 15s championships, June 7 in Lethbridge, on the line.
“Big Sky looks good, and the final is going to be awesome,” Padley said.
While the Phoenix’s rugby 15s season is over for another year, Springbank will field a team in the Rocky View Sports Association’s divisional rugby 7s championships, June 4 at Bow Valley High School. Springbank is the tournament’s defending champion.