Vancouver, BC – The first BC Rugby Premier Division season since the pandemic saw the UBC Thunderbirds claim yet another accolade in an impressive season. Toppling the Castaway Wanderers RFC in the finals 48-34, it comes as the program continues to gain momentum.
On the backdrop of a sunny but breezy afternoon, the teams took to the South Surrey Athletic Park pitch, where the finals for all BC club divisions were being played. UBC kicked off the match against the wind as a massive crowd took in the action.
The T-Birds would be the ones to strike first. In the fourth minute, Jacob Bossi burst through the Wanderers line and found the try zone for the game’s first score. It would be a back and forth affair afterwards, with the teams trading penalty kicks.
Grady Bowd of the Wanderers would be the one to respond, collecting a purposeless UBC kick and cutting through the defence. Suddenly, the Castaways were only down 10-8, while plenty of momentum on their side. They managed to take the lead in the 24th minute through yet another penalty kick.
The T-Birds battled back. After a miscue on the lineout, Connor O’Flaherty scooped up the loose ball and barreled into the try area. His tally gave UBC the 15-11 edge in the 26th.
However, that would be the last of the scoring for the T-Birds in the first half as the Wanderers forced their way into the lead. A couple of momentary lapses gave the Castaways two penalty kicks to close the half, which they happily converted. For the first time in a long while, UBC trailed 17-15 heading into half time.
The response coming out of half would not take long. Four minutes into the new frame, Frank Carson would prove to be simply too big for the Castaways to take down. A quick offload to Owain Ruttan saw the Thunderbird skipper ground the ball between the uprights.
Mere moments later, a beautifully worked set piece sprung Landon Clironomos on a clear break, the first year’s patented speed too much for anyone to catch him. Wearing the number 22 listed for Kilick Saxer, Clironomos gave UBC some breathing room with his try.
The frenetic pace to start the second half caught the Castaways momentarily off guard. However, they showed exactly why they were in the finals by battling back after getting their legs back. An ill-advised yellow card to the Thunderbirds’ Joshua Tweed gifted the Wanderers the opportunity to score, one they capitalized on in the 58th minute.
Then, CW brought themselves right back into the lead to 29-27 with a John Braddock try five minutes later. It became a toss-up as both teams clawed back and forth at each other.
The Thunderbirds then found themselves gifted with a golden opportunity to go back in front. Unfortunately, a penalty kick in the 70th minute sailed just wide, but the follow-up play proved critical. Jack Carson refused to be hauled down until the last moment, popping a pass over to Frank Carson to convert in the 72nd minute.
That try seemed to crater the tiring legs of Wanderers as the Thunderbirds cast away their defense in the final moments of the game. The 79th minute saw excellent team play as Ethan Berry punched in the insurance marker.
And then, just for the cherry on top, Jake Andrews-Almack broke loose in the 80th minute to bring the UBC lead up to 48-29. The Wanderers would get a try in the game’s final play, but it was simply too little, too late. The Thunderbirds began to celebrate as the whistle blew three times, claiming the BC Premier Division title with a score of 48-34.
Head coach Curry Hitchborn was quick to give all the credit to the team. “They’ve done a really outstanding job of managing their own momentum, their own expectations, and they understand what the coaches ask,” he said after the game. “Once those expectations are clear, they’ve just picked it up and run with it.”
Hitchborn also praised the Wanderers’ unit in what proved to be the toughest test of the spring. “Castaways are an incredibly well-drilled unit … they showed up to play, and they made it hard on us.”
Ruttan spoke about the importance of starting the second half in the way they did. “It was the conversation we had to have, sticking to our game plan and not getting panicked when things don’t go our way,” the veteran said.
First-year Max Abercrombie was understandably elated after the match. “It’s [Castaway Wanderers] actually my home club,” Abercrombie laughed. “They really brought it out here. They’re probably the best team that we had the chance to play all season. We weren’t expecting to meet them here, but I’m really happy that we did.”
The young number 10 went on to speak about the experience of winning as a team. “There are guys here that this is their fifth year, sixth year, and you see to see what it means to them,” Abercrombie said. “You realize how important this moment is.”
After finishing the season undefeated, the UBC men’s rugby union year comes to an end. In the fall, UBC will play host to the next Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship, looking to defend its title on home turf from November 23rd-27th.