North Thompson Spartans senior rugby team was eliminated by Kalamalka of Vernon in an Okanagan semi-final last Thursday.
However, Kalamalka has chosen not to go to the provincials and so the Spartans were to travel to Abbotsford on Wednesday.
“Call it rugby karma,” said Gabe Francis, one of the Spartans’ coaches. “I think we were the better team last Thursday, controlling possession, just making some poor mistakes that we paid for dearly.”
The Spartans, a joint Clearwater/Barriere team, exceeded expectations this season, according to Francis.
“It has been a long time since AA teams from the Thompson region have beat Okanagan teams and we beat both OKM (Okanagan Mission – Kelowna) (27-10) and Kalamalka (Vernon) (27-12) in regular season play,” he said.
Some Spartans were on the sideline for the Okanagan semi-final, and the team lost to Kalamalka 19-15. However, the local side did control the majority of possession, ball handling errors and penalties denied them success in a game that they should have won had all the Spartans been available, the coach felt.
“We had the lead until Kal scored a controversial try with 11 minutes remaining, but we failed to capitalize on many chances inside their five yard line,” Francis said. “Such is rugby, it is a physical game and the depth of the squad will get tested.”
The coach listed several firsts for the season. The seniors were given honourable mentions in the provincial rankings, which is a significant accomplishment.
They won their first game on their home pitch, and they had their first game of shut-out rugby.
“Our players who were new to the game displayed tremendous character and grit, and we have a very solid core returning for next season,” the coach said. “They are quite hungry and I anticipate they will be working hard in the gym in the off season.”
He said that during the last two seasons the local rugby program has been fortunate to have outstanding Grade 12s step up and take a chance at a sport they have never played before. In both seasons they learned quickly and became very effective players.
“Our losses came against squads who have had strong histories of excelling at the provincial level, and we are not far off from being right there with them,” Francis said.
As of press-time, the Spartan juniors had one game remaining but had won all four of their matches this season.
“They are competing as an exhibition squad as many of the Grade 10 players also play senior rugby and they are not eligible to participate in both senior and junior rugby league play,” Francis explained.
He felt that, although the squad is light on numbers, it has a great core group that will continue to find success due to their commitment at the senior level.
“The future is bright for both squads next season,” Francis said. “I believe a buzz has developed in both Clearwater Secondary and Barriere Secondary about the sport, and I hope to see many new faces out next season.”
“The valley can be proud of this group of resilient, tough young men that represented the North Thompson admirably,” said the coach.