It was a special moment for the BC Bears at Calgary Rugby Park on Saturday evening as they defeated the Ontario Blues by the narrowest of margins, coming out on the right side of a 30-29 result to claim the 2017 Canadian Rugby Championship title. It’s the first time the Bears have lifted the MacTier Cup since the competition’s inaugural season in 2009. The match itself was a mix of good and bad from both sides but with enough action to keep spectators entertained through to its dramatic conclusion.
The challengers struck first, with midfielder Mike Nieuwenhuysen’s inside line catching the defense off-guard and an inside step wrong-footing last man Rory McDonell. Guiseppe du Toit made good on the conversion but the lead didn’t last long.
Now at the other end of the pitch, Andrew Lackner was shown yellow for dangerous contact on the neck. With the man advantage the Blues begin to put through phases until finally their own tally emerged. Shawn Windsor took on the line and somehow managed a brilliant offload from the deck to an onrushing Josh Campbell and the veteran utility back dove in under the sticks, Andrew Ferguson adding the extras to draw the scores level.
McDonell made up for his slip-up to race in for Ontario’s second try. This time it was Campbell’s back-handed offload that put his fullback in the clear to give the Blues a one-score lead though a quarter of the match. du Toit responded with a penalty goal and then Ontario’s discipline went south.
Eric Howard was first to go with a cynical penalty drawing the referee’s ire, and the Mike Sheppard made his way to the bin for a late hit on Phil Mack. Despite being two defenders short the Blues held out and made it to the break with a four-point lead.
It was the champions who came out strongest after the interval. With their team back at full strength the Blues drove deep into BC territory. Andrew Ferguson spotted a half-gap on the fringe and needed to convincing to take it, touching down through the desperate tackle of Travis Larsen.
Penalties continued to hamper the Blues with du Toit landing his second penalty from 43 metres. His third was just a yard inside halfway and cleared the bar with plenty of room to spare. The bounce of the ball gave BC the lead when du Toit’s dab through bounced off a Blues defender and into the hands of Karsten Leitner, with the winger showing his pace to skip through a pair of tacklers for a crucial try.
Ferguson again took matters into his own hands, taking a quick tap from in front of the posts to pin the Bears back on their goal line. After two quick hit-ups the scrumhalf had just enough length to reach out of the tackle and dot the ball down on the line for a try. The conversion from a bad angle was no good but Ontario had a one-point lead.
The turning point came next as the Blues defense faltered badly. With a dozen men sucked into one side of the pitch, BC spotted the huge overlap out wide but Nieuwenhuysen didn’t need it, instead striding through the space for a seven-pointer.
Ontario tried valiantly to get it back. Yet again Ferguson was the catalyst, dropping a cheeky grubber in behind with his left boot for Peter Milazzo to pick up and score. The flanker couldn’t make it further infield, however, leaving another kick from wide out. Ferguson’s attempt went across the face of the posts and the flags stayed down.
The Blues won possession from the kickoff but Doug Fraser ripped the ball free in a tackle to give the Bears all they needed to wind the clock down. Mack’s final kick into touch brought the curtains down on the season and an end to the seven year drought.
Tries – M. Nieuwenhuysen 2 (5’, 75’), K. Leitner (58’)
Cons – G. du Toit 3/3 (6’, 59’, 77’)
Pens – G. du Toit 3/6 (24’, 51’, 55’)
Yellow cards – A. Lackner (8’)
Tries – J. Campbell (11’), R. McDonell (19’), A. Ferguson 2 (45’, 67’), P. Milazzo (76’)
Cons – A. Ferguson 2/5 (11’, 20’)
Yellow cards – E. Howard (30’), M. Sheppard (33’)
1 Anthony Luca (capt.), 2 Andrew Lackner (16 Paul Ahn 46’), 3 Noah Barker (18 Neil Courtney 68’), 4 Craig McLaughlin (19 Cam Polson 46’), 5 Connor Weyell, 6 Travis Larsen, 7 Kevin Leask (16 Paul Ahn 9’-18’), 8 Dustin Dobravsky, 9 Phil Mack, 10 Guiseppe du Toit, 11 Karsten Leitner, 12 Mike Nieuwenhuysen, 13 Doug Fraser, 14 Kimi Vunituraga, 15 Harjun Gill
Not used: 17 Blake van Heyningen, 20 Jordan Reid-Harvey, 21 Riley DiNardo, 22 Gavin Rowell, 23 Reid Watkins
1 Rob Brouwer (capt.), 2 Eric Howard (18 AJ Quattrin 72’), 3 Tom Dolezel, 4 Hank McQueen (19 Paul Ciulini 53’), 5 Mike Sheppard (20 Seb Pearson 53’), 6 Marcello Wainwright (18 AJ Quattrin 31’-40’) (16 Andrew Wilson 57’), 7 Peter Milazzo, 8 Lucas Rumball, 9 Andrew Ferguson, 10 Shawn Windsor, 11 Kainoa Lloyd, 12 Mitch Richardson (22 Kyle Lagasca 64’), 13 Josh Campbell (23 Johnny Sheridan 37’), 14 Dan Moor, 15 Rory McDonell
Not used: 17 Pat Lynott, 21 Mario van der Westhuizen
Referee: Chris Assmus
Assistants: David Smortchevsky & Michael Jones