RUGBY: Oak Bay, SMUS set rugby bar but Saanich schools closing in

School rugby thriving outside of traditional programs

Claremont's Adrian Gardner grimaces as he pushes a ball out of a scrum during a match against Reynolds during the final Lower Island rugby game of the season held at Claremont. Claremont won 34-19.

Claremont's Adrian Gardner grimaces as he pushes a ball out of a scrum during a match against Reynolds during the final Lower Island rugby game of the season held at Claremont. Claremont won 34-19.

Considering Victoria’s tradition as a competitive rugby hotbed the Claremont Spartans can take added pride in their season as AA/AAA league champions.

Despite losing their challenge game for the AAA provincials to the Cowichan Thunderbirds 40-20 last week, the Spartans, led by the passion of coach Phil Ohl, continued to bolster the game at the school level.

Boys rugby is nothing new to Saanich high schools like Claremont and Reynolds, but the days of playing at par with the region’s top programs are something of the past.

Currently, high school rugby in Victoria belongs to the Oak Bay Barbarians and St. Michaels University Blue Jags. The rivalry between the two is hotly contested and though the ’Barbs were the better side in 2011, the two stand together atop the pyramid of Lower Island school rugby.

And so it will go until someone can close the gap.

This year saw the two Saanich schools improve in their own right. Claremont went 7-0, Reynolds 6-1 in the combined AA and AAA school league with the AAA Spectrum Thunder, Belmont Bulldogs, Stelly’s Stingers, and the AA Victoria Titans, Esquimalt Dockers and up-and-coming Glenlyon Norfolk Gryphons.

SMUS and Oak Bay played a premier level schedule against upper Island and mainland powers such as Shawnigan Lake and Carson Graham (North Vancouver). Their absence from Lower Island league play helped level the competitive field.

And no team benefited more than the Spartans who went undefeated while outscoring opponents 318 to 75. Last year’s AA/AAA league champs, the Reynolds Rogues, didn’t lose until the final regular season game when they fell to the Spartans, 34-19.

That set up a South Island playoff with the fourth-seeded Rogues facing the top seed Barbarians and third-seeded Spartans drawing second-seeded SMUS. Those wins, 38-5 for SMUS and 58-0 for Oak Bay, proved there is still a substantial distance between the pack and the leaders.

Regardless, the Spartans won their fifth consecutive Saanich Cup over the Stelly’s Stingers while battling to a hard fought win against the physical Belmont Bulldogs.

“Claremont also hosted the hugely popular Spartan Scrum Fest and made a rugby tour to the Okangan,” Ohl said.

This summer a core of Claremont’s Grade 12 players are likely to represent the Lower Island at the B.C. Summer Games: Matthew Lilly, Adam Brooker, Cody Gervais, Mitch Macfarlane, Dustin Hamilton, and Chris Ablitt.

And the future is strong with a returning Grade 11 contingent featuring Rhys Prevost, Adam Ravenhill and Daylin Salter, added Ohl.