VANCOUVER, BC – The second game of the Coastal Cup was not the result that the UBC Thunderbirds were looking for, falling to the Vancouver Wave Rugby Union 34-22 in a hard-fought battle.
While skies were grey above Gerald McGavin, the crowd certainly didn’t mind one bit. With both teams based in Vancouver, there were many supporters for both sides in the stands, making sure their voices were heard.
The match got off to a quick start. It was the more experienced Wave side that struck early in the 3rd, Thomas Viljoen scoring a try before Mike Moloney converted the extra points to give them a 7-0 lead. Wave proceeded to add more to that lead with a Moloney try in the 15th, a good conversion pushing them to a 14-0 cushion.
Compared to last week’s match against the Trinity Western Spartans, the Thunderbirds found themselves scrambling, being stymied on offense and repeatedly pushed back on defense. The game, the pace, all were in control of Wave Rugby as the first half ticked on.
The Vancouver rep team didn’t let up either, Brian Moylett scoring yet another try in the 37th minute. As Moloney converted yet again, the Thunderbirds found themselves in a deep hole, trailing 21-0 at the halftime whistle.
Coming back out for the second half though, it seemed that whatever head coach Curry Hitchborn had to say in the huddle worked. Though Moloney scored a penalty in the early stages of the second half, the T-Birds were rapidly finding their legs. More of their drives were coming closer and only a 50/50 call denied them their first points of the afternoon.
The men in blue-and-gold kept pushing, and soon enough they broke through the Wave ranks. Owain Ruttan bulldozed his way through the scrum and grounded the ball emphatically to get UBC on the board. Takoda McMullin converted the ensuing kick, putting the score at 24-7.
It was just the start of UBC’s comeback efforts. In the 63rd, the Thunderbirds would charge down the field again. Swinging the ball from left to right with purpose, Connor Byron eventually found the gap that he was looking for, diving into the try zone for another score.
Sensing that Wave was showing a little weakness, the T-Birds continued to push on. Merely 4 minutes passed before McMullin found himself hunting down a kick forwards. It deflected off his shin, tantalizingly high in the air. The second-year secured the ball on the try line, before having the presence of mind to realize his momentum was carrying him out of bounds. McMullin front-flipped through, making sure he grounded the ball.
His efforts brought UBC within 5 points, one try away from tying the game up. The teams traded penalty kicks, the score sitting at 27-22 heading into the final 5 minutes.
The Hollywood comeback script was not to be written today, however. Wave Rugby showed their experience, locking the game down with a 79th-minute try. Finding the opening after a beautiful dummy pass, Colby Mason put the game out of reach as Moloney went 4-for-4 on his conversions. The whistle blew three times, UBC falling 34-22 in a tough defeat.
Coach Hitchborn was quick to credit the Wave team. “They were an unreal team, they’re outstanding, they’re very very well-coached,” he said. “They were more precise where they needed to be, they were more direct.”
The sluggish start from his team was a point of emphasis. “We waited for permission to play rugby, they read the scene they adapted to it,” Hitchborn added. “We need to be more patient with ourselves, we need to be more understanding of the opposition and the fact that we’re all back here.”
Wearing the captain’s armband today, Owain Ruttan found some positives to take from their loss. “When you look at the second half scoreline, you can’t not be happy with that,” he said. “We won that half so we’ve got to carry that momentum forward going into the next game.”
He too shared similar sentiments with his coach. “It’s just all about commitment to the program and work rate, we talked about it all the time,” Ruttan said about the lessons from the match. “Work your a** off, there’s no room to be standing around on this team.”
The Thunderbirds have themselves a bye week, before returning to action on October 16th against the University of Victoria Vikes at home. Historic rivals to the UBC Rugby program, it will also be the first Wightman Boot in a very long time. The game will be live on YouTube.