TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Shawn Sarkonak of the Brandon Barbarians plows past a Winnipeg Highlanders player during Division 1 Rugby Manitoba playoff semi-final action at John Reilly Field on Sunday.
For the fifth straight year, the Brandon Barbarians will try to win their first Rugby Manitoba Division 1 men’s championship, but this time they’ll get a chance to do it at home.
Shane Morgan of the Brandon Barbarians tries to break through the Winnipeg Highlanders’ defences during Division 1 Rugby Manitoba playoff semifinal action at John Reilly Field on Sunday afternoon.
(TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
The Barbarians advanced to the championship game with a dominating performance against the Highlanders on Sunday at John Reilly Field. Brandon controlled the pace of play and field position for the majority of the match and cruised to a 39-7 victory to set up a date with the Winnipeg Wasps in the Wheat City on Saturday at 4 p.m.
This is the first time the Barbarians, who have lost the last four championship games, will host the league final in the club’s 32-year history, and head coach and club president Jon Fitzpatrick is excited for the opportunity.
"It’s not just this group; this is the 23 that will have the opportunity to do it, but it’s 32 years of Barbs history and Rugby Manitoba to have it out here," he said. "It’s going to be a great honour. The boys have earned it, they haven’t had it handed to us. We earned our home-field advantage today and we’re the higher-ranked team going into the final, so we’ve earned our home field and we’re here."
Brandon, which finished second in the regular season with a 7-3 record, took a while to get rid of its nerves early in their semifinal.
Andrew Halliday got the team on the board with a try in the 14th minute with a short run to the corner that just crossed the goal-line. Barret Dufor, Sean Common and Matt Cooper added tries before the half ended, with Common adding a conversion, to give the Barbarians a 22-0 lead at the break. Common added another try and conversion in the second half, while Michael Birch and Nathan Peto also touched the ball down.
The Highlanders scored a try and convert in the last five minutes to close out the scoring.
The victory was big for Brandon to move into the final, but also to show that the Barbarians can dominate a team regardless of the style of rugby they play.
"This is a team that’s small and fast and we had to contain that and starve them of the ball because when they’ve got the ball they’re dangerous," Common said. "We played a team last week and two weeks ago that are big physical teams and we played the same type of game against them, controlled the ball, don’t give them the ball, don’t let them be dangerous and it looks to be working. It’s worked the last month and we’re building."
That could be even more important since the Wasps can play both or a combination of the two styles. They used their kicking game to beat the University of Manitoba Wombats 22-17 in the other semifinal on Saturday.
The Barbarians beat the Wasps in the regular season, which has the team confident heading into Saturday’s final.
"I’ve not been part of a Barbs team that’s been as a tighter-knit group," Common said. "These guys have bought into the system we’re playing. Everyone is going about their job quietly. There’s not a lot of talk, but there’s a lot of action, with is always good. Talk is cheap. There’s a good feeling about the squad this year."
Meanwhile, the women’s Barbarians team fell 55-7 to the Saracens in the Division 1 women’s semifinals. Steph Dornn had Brandon’s lone try and conversion.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 30, 2013