VANCOUVER, BC – Spectators packed the Gerald McGavin Rugby Centre on a sunny Saturday afternoon, taking in the UBC Thunderbirds’ return to their home ground. The T-Birds men’s rugby squad last played at home against Berkeley 573 days ago, the wait finally over.
The Trinity Western Spartans were the first test that awaited them in the new Coastal Cup, a newly established high-performance championship in the lower mainland. With a strong travelling contingent of away fans, the atmosphere was electric as the blue-and-gold returned.
It was UBC that struck fast and early as Takoda McMullin delivered a penalty kick between the goalposts, tacking on three points in the 3rd minute of the match. The Thunderbirds didn’t ease up one bit, as in the 4th, Evan Norris scored a try to give UBC an 8-0 advantage.
TWU managed to get themselves on the board with a penalty kick of their own, but the T-Birds responded right away with a massive Jacob Bossi try in the 10th. As McMullin’s conversion kick soared between the posts, the score was now 15-3.
Another try by the Spartans saw them score 5 points soon thereafter, not giving up and trying to match UBC blow for blow. However, the blue-and-gold made sure their rivals couldn’t get close. Dillon Hamilton tacked on another try as UBC took a 20-8 lead into halftime.
And it was the T-Birds coming out of the game strong in the second half, Connor Byron scoring literally in the 41st minute. McMullin’s conversion extended UBC’s lead to 27-8. TWU would respond, but an unsuccessful conversion left them trailing 27-13.
The game would fall into a bit of a lull, as both teams battled hard. It had been two years since they last played in proper competition and it showed with some rough plays. All in all though, with a packed crowd at Gerald McGavin, there was no place like home.
UBC would add another try and conversion at the end, scored by a massive Flynn Heyes push in the 66th and defended to the last. The boys in blue-and-gold fought till the final whistle, and as the 34-13 victory was sealed, the celebration began.
Head coach Curry Hitchborn was understandably pleased with what he saw. “It was an outstanding, outstanding first match to have coming right out of the gates,” he said just as the whistle went. “Trinity Western is a team you got to take seriously, so it was a good first test for us.”
There were a couple of points of concern for him, matters of shaking off some rust. “We’ve got to be way more attentive at the breakdown. We’ve got to be way more attentive and just in terms of hanging on to the ball,” Hitchborn said. “We’ve got to look after ourselves a lot more and not get worried about what referees do or do not.”
However, the return to action was thrilling, and something that Hitchborn is excited to see more of as the Coastal Cup continues. “The university has been outstanding in their support of making sure that the Coastal Cup can come off out here at UBC,” he said. “Very clear in their expectations, the guidance and the direction, so for us, it’s made our jobs really simple.”
“We just have to put a team on the field.”
The UBC T-Birds take on Wave Rugby next Saturday, October 2nd at Gerald McGavin again.
Cover photo credit: TWU Spartans Athletics