In a rematch of last year’s championship bout, the University of Victoria Vikes men’s sevens side, including Williams Lake Rustlers Nathan Stewart, Doug Fraser and Kane Wyatt, once again got the best of the UBC Thunderbirds.
The Vikes captured the National University Sevens Rugby Championship with a thrilling 17-12 win Saturday at Langford’s Westhills Stadium, the base of operations for Rugby Canada.
Victoria had been considered a top contender to start the 2015 tournament, however, UBC had just come off a big win at the USA College Sevens Tournament at the Las Vegas Sevens. Coming in, UBC held a two-point lead in the BC Rugby Union’s Canadian Direct Insurance Premier Division.
Nathan, a six-year veteran with the Vikes, alongside Rustlers Wyatt and Fraser, played a pivotal role in Victoria’s success at the tournament.
Victoria pushed aside the Calgary Dinos, the Waterloo Warriors and the Saskatchewan Huskies by wide margins on opening day, before laying a 27-0 drubbing on the McMaster Marauders, then a 34-0 blanking on the Queens Golden Gaels on semifinal day to reach the championship match.
The final, played under the evening lights at Westhills Stadium, was a tense affair. Neither team could garner an advantage until Fraser was sent off with a yellow card midway through the first half.
While strong defence held UBC off down a man, a misstep off the back of a scrum allowed the Thunderbirds to claim the first score.
With Fraser back on the pitch, quick play and sustained possession by UVIC saw Luke McLoskey suddenly break down the right wing. With 20 metres to go, McLoskey was injured with a torn hamstring, but persisted in driving through to score the Vikes’ first try.
Down 7-5 at the half, Fraser later capitalized on a short break by Luke Hammond to streak down the left wing putting Victoria into the lead. Soon after, and with UVIC down a man to another yellow card, UBC scored to even up the score at 12-12 with three minutes remaining.
With UBC holding the Vikes behind their own 20-metre line, Nathan disrupted the Thunderbirds’ attacking lineout leading to a solid Victoria possession and downfield push.
Linking with Crosby Stewart on the left sideline, Nathan took the ball to contact, tying up rattled UBC defenders. UVIC forced the ball wide when Fergus Hall fed Fraser charging hard down the right wing, before Fraser brushed off the lone Thunderbirds’ defender to score in the corner with six seconds remaining to lead the Vikes to the championship.
The Vikes will now be seeking to solidify their playoff berth in the Premier Division. Across Victoria, the Castaway Wanderers with Williams Lake talents Riley Ilnicki and Jordan Pritchard, have come off a massive win over the James Bay Athletic Association.
But without Jake Ilnicki due to Canadian national team commitments, they’ll be in tough this weekend against the Capilanos RFC — currently third in the premiership under UBC and UVIC.
At the under-18 level, Williams Lake’s Jaye Richards continues to be engaged in training and selection camps in support of national team development — evidence of the lakecity’s traditions in youth rugby development.