The Brandon Barbarians battled all season for this opportunity.
The Barbarians will hold home-field advantage at John Reilly Field on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 when they battle the Winnipeg Wasps in the Rugby Manitoba Division 1 men’s semifinals for a chance to advance to their fourth straight provincial final.
After dropping their regular-season finale in Minnedosa last weekend, 33-15 to the Winnipeg Highlanders, the Barbarians are happy to be back on their home pitch for their biggest game of the season so far.
"Teams do not like coming to Brandon," Barbarians head coach Jon Fitzpatrick said. "They hate the travel, they hate leaving the Perimeter, so we definitely have a home-field advantage and that game is really important for us to have it at home ...
"It was a bit of an eye-opener for us (last weekend), which was really good and we needed it and I think the guys took it pretty personally. So everyone is pretty pumped up and pretty excited about this weekend, so the guys should be raring to go."
The Barbarians’ Division 1 team was the only Brandon squad to make the playoffs this season, as the Division 2 men (5-8-1) and the Barbarians women (8-6-0) did not advance.
The Barbarians posted a first-place 11-4-0 record, sweeping the Wasps in all three of their regular-season matchups this season, and are hoping stout defence will be the key again this weekend.
"It’s about 15 guys buying in and doing what we have to do on that field and licking their wounds and living with the aches and bruises and injuries later and be ready to throw your body on the line and give it what you’ve got," Fitzpatrick said.
Fly half Sean Common will also play a key role, as always. The talented 27-year-old veteran, who farms just north of Brandon, has handled all the kicking duties for the Barbarians this season and is a big reason why Brandon finished atop the standings.
"You win championships based on two things, one is defence — and that’s in every sport — and the other with rugby is having a reliable goal kicker and somebody who can get you out of pressure when you are pinned back on your heels," Fitzpatrick said.
"Sean has done that game-in, game-out over the season for us. He has carried us in a few games where we weren’t up to par and he’s absolutely a huge key. So we have to keep the pressure off of him and give him some time to do his thing."
While they aren’t looking past the Wasps, the Barbarians are determined to win their first Division 1 men’s championship this season, after coming up empty in three straight trips to the final.
"We’ve been runners-up enough times, that’s for sure," Fitzpatrick said. "We are ready to go, we’ve getting a few bodies back from injuries here, which is nice because we have been hit pretty hard with injuries here over the last month. So we’re starting to get some guys back, which is pretty important, and hopefully we’ll take a run at it this year."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 19, 2012