For the first time since 1991 the Howard Russell Cup, emblematic of the Lower Island senior boys AAA rugby trophy, will not feature the Oak Bay Barbarians vs. the St. Michaels University School Blue Jags.
The Blue Jags dropped to AA this year so instead the Mount Doug Rams will face the Barbs in the Howard Russell.
Kick off is 3:15 p.m. at Oak Bay High on Thursday. It will be followed by the AA Colonel Hodgkins final between the Blue Jags and Glenlyon School Gryphons at 4:40 p.m.
Rugby has a rich history at Mount Doug, but it’s been a tough go in recent years in the shadow of the province’s top football program.
“There was a Rams rugby team last year but it’s been off and on the past while, and its far less competitive,” said first year coach Matt Staples.
The Rams do, however, have some of the most gifted athletes on the Island and possibly the province.
Problem is they haven’t played rugby.
Lining up for the Rams at fullback on Thursday is the intimidating Mason Swift, who was named MVP of the Subway Bowl provincial football championship game the past two years.
“Mason does everything so well – he can run, he’s explosive and throws an amazing stiff arm,” Staples said.
Swift played last year and is a quick study of the game. He had been playing at centre and as a No. 8 before that, but will line up at fullback for the Howard Russell as an answer to the Barbarians kicking game.
“Who wants to kick to him, I wouldn’t,” Staples said.
While Swift makes for an impressive back line the Rams field an absolutely massive front line by any standard of rugby, men’s teams included.
The loosehead prop is 270 lbs, the hooker is 260 lbs and the tighthead prop is 310 lbs.
“That’s bigger than most men’s teams, way bigger, and Matt Power, the hooker, is quite mobile, so they can play,” Staples said.
The second row also shows promise with Sasha Shurvin, a defensive lineman from the football team, 6-foot-3, 200 lbs.
“I think Shurvin’s the best flanker on the whole Lower Island, his thirst for contact is incredible, he loves tackling and is a great line out jumper.”
The most experienced Ram is scrum half Niko Mountfort, the captain, out of the Castaway Wanderers rugby club.
Unfortunately the experience and skill level isn’t as high as the Barbarians, one of the most well-trained high school rugby programs in Canada. “Our learning curve is high and we’re turning into a team that can play, we’ll keep improving,” Staples said.
The Rams kept pace with the Barbs in the first half of their league match earlier this season but the Barbs pulled away in the second half to win by a large margin.
Mt. Douglas advanced to the final with a narrow 24-21 semifinal win over the Claremont Spartans.
Oak Bay counters with a balanced attack spearheaded by No. 8 and captain Evan Cambridge, and fullback Conor McDiarmid, a try scoring threat.
The AA Colonel Hodgkins final starts at 4:40 p.m., also at Oak Bay High.
Blue Jags scrum half Sam Reid, fly half Dawit Workie and centre Dave Pollen are instrumental to the Blue Jags attack. They present a high speed and wide game.
Glenlyon is in a rebuild of sorts, having graduated Fergus Hall, the 2012 high school athlete of the year. Instead, decorated coach Winston Stanley bring a roster of underclassmen and are the underdogs in the final.
All four teams have qualified for the B.C. Championships which run May 25 to June 1.