Souris battles but falls to St. Paul’s
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David gave Goliath all he could handle in the first half, but the St. Paul’s Crusaders ultimately emerged with a 24-7 victory over the Souris Sabres on Saturday at John Reilly Field to claim the provincial boys rugby championship.
St. Paul’s, a private school in Winnipeg, received a pair of tries from Caleb Klus, and single tries from Nathan Macdonell and Eamon Wallace, who also had a pair of converts for the AAAA Crusaders.
Souris captain Duncan Punay replied with a try and convert for the AA Sabres.
“It feels great,” Klus said. “It’s a good way to come back from the whole COVID spiel. We haven’t had it in a while and we’re bringing it back for our school.”
Most of the first half was played between the 22-metre lines — in hockey terms that would be in the neutral zone between the blue-lines — with neither team giving up much.
Wallace struck late in the first half when the Crusaders kicked the ball toward the Sabres end, and regained possession. He was then successful on a long convert from near the sidelines to give St. Paul’s a 7-0 lead.
“It was back and forth and I thought our boys came out and enjoyed the majority of the possession in the first half,” Souris head coach Brian Yon said. “They’re a good team, and if you make one mistake, they’ll make you pay for it.
“They kicked one in behind and we didn’t quite execute on our counterattack and they got the turnover and punched one over. But even then, it’s a 7-0 game. If you had told me we were going to be down 7-0 at the half against St. Paul’s, I would have taken it.”
The Sabres had an outstanding chance to tie the game early in second half when a solo rush came within a few yards of the goal-line, but the Crusaders regained control of the ball and pushed up the field, with Klus ultimately running the ball in.
“Our support runners weren’t there and he was isolated and they stole the ball,” said Yon, who noted there was a similar instance late in the second half. “Good on (the Crusaders) for doing that, that’s what they’re supposed to do. There were a couple of times we had line breaks and were isolated and just didn’t have the support. If we had the support on those two runs, we probably score.”
Soon after his first try, Klus struck again, and while neither convert worked out, St. Paul’s had a 17-0 lead.
“The boys just let up a bit,” said Punay, whose try and convert came after Macdonell had given the Crusaders a 24-0 lead. “I think we just saw the boys — there was all this talk coming into the game that they were way better than us — but in the first half we gave it to them. It was good rugby. It just sucks that it had to end up like that.”
Yon said his team simply wasn’t as good to start the second half, but he liked how they responded after St. Paul’s took the 24-point lead.
“We started to get tired,” Yon said. “When you have a team like that — they’re big, they’re fit — you get tired and start to make mistakes and our defensive structure kind of broke down a little bit and they punched a couple of easy ones over.
“But the boys kicked it into gear again, and in the last eight to 10 minutes, it was all us and we came down and scored and had them under pressure again.”
St. Paul’s played just seven games this year, including three in the regular season, the city final, an exhibition matchup and two at provincials.
Crusaders coach Ally Leckie said Souris was certainly a terrific opponent to end the season against.
“They played a fantastic game and gave us a real fight and run for our money in the first half,” Leckie said. “It was tied 0-0 for quite a while and I’m really glad we got to see them in this tournament.”
“They’re definitely the strongest team we’ve played for sure,” Klus said. “Their passing was a lot stronger than I’ve seen from any other team, they knew how to tackle and their rucking was really strong as well.”
Even in defeat, Punay said his team always worked hard. He added it was one of the defining characteristics of their season.
“The boys just stuck with it,” Punay said. “We didn’t let up one bit. Every game we went to, the other team was talking about ‘These guys are so much smaller than us, we’re bigger than them’ and they thought they could handle us.
“We’ve got dogs on this team that stick it to them. We play physically and teams don’t expect that from us. It’s just Souris boys and how we play.”
Yon said he’ll remember this team, which won the league title in Dauphin, for its perseverance.
“Coming off two years of not being able to play sports due to COVID, some of these boys came in and just took off where they left off two years ago,” Yon said. “Our Grade 12s were only Grade 9s, and we all these young guys, all these new guys coming in. Most of our team is Grade 9 and 10 and the young guys got behind our leaders and they worked and got better.”
Punay was joined on the team by five other graduating seniors, Austin Gordon, Noah Landry-Svetec, Shaine Murphy, Colin Nay and Stevie Ross.
Yon said the group, which came through the youth program in Souris, will be missed.
“I don’t think I can ask much more out of this group,” Yon said. “They’ve been great for us all year and we’re really sad to see our seniors go. That’s the challenge of high school sports. We’re losing six special kids who have been with us for a long time.”
» Twitter: @PerryBergson