It was a night of firsts at Sullivan Heights Park Nov. 22.
The Surrey Beavers squared off against the Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans in the first ever night game at Sullivan Heights. It was also the Beavers’ first game against TWU. And it is also TWU’s inaugural season for mens’ 15-aside rugby.
In only their second game since re-establishing a program that died in 2004, TWU played very well considering their limited match experience, said Surrey Captain Paul Kelly.
“We were more than happy to get a game in and give those guys some game experience against a mens’ side.”
At times, TWU displayed flashes of speed and playmaking ability, but ultimately it was Surrey’s night as they won the game 31-13.
TWU played well in the first half, but lost the ball at key times because of technical errors. They also lost possessions in contact a few times, both in rucks and mauls.
In one series of plays near the end of the first half, TWU drove the ball down the field very well—spreading the ball wide, recycling the subsequents rucks in tight with the forwards, and then spreading the ball wide again.
As Trinity powered the ball down the pitch, the Beavers were playing on the back foot and kept arriving late to rucks, committing three penalties in the process. TWU used them to their advantage, kicking each out of bounds and winning their own subsequent line-out throws.
But a key knock-on in the middle of the field gifted the ball to the Beavers who then pounded the ball back the other way.
With only a minute to go in the half, Surrey broke the TWU line when Riley Johnson burst through for a 20-metre run. Surrey was able to punch in an unconverted try a few phases later and the first half ended 17-6 for the Beavers (3 tries to 2 penalty kicks).
The second half began much like the first half ended when fullback James Bailey raced 40 metres to score another try for Surrey. Brandon Gatto drilled the convert attempt down the middle of the posts to raise the score to 24-6.
The rest of the half was a back-and-forth battle with the wet conditions taking over the match. Each side committed some handling errors, but the Beavers seemed to be in full control of the game’s ebb and flow.
Surrey added another try with about 10 minutes to go and moved ahead 31-6.
The Spartans responded immediately, notching their only try of the match, when Fly-Half Ethan Kelt darted through the Beavers’ defense at the 22-metre line. Kelt zigged his way to the goal, powering through two Beavers at the five-metre line and dragging them along with him as he willed his way over the try line for five points. Kelt added his own convert to cap an amazing individual effort.
Ultimately, technical errors handcuffed the Spartans’ game. TWU arrived at breakdowns in low numbers, but they rucked well, and they were able to get quick ball out to their backs. However, the university squad suffered from too many bad passes, knock-ons, and lost balls in both contact play (rucks and mauls) and set-piece play (scrums and line-outs) to put together an effective game.
Despite the errors and lack of game experience, Kelly was impressed with the new team.
“They are young and both teams made mistakes out there,” he said. “But kudos to them because we have some boys on our team that could be some of (the TWU players’) dads.”
Kelly said he’s overjoyed there is a university rugby team now in the area.
“This is what we need. For a lot of the Surrey and Fraser Valley kids, the nearest place they can play university rugby is at UBC. So this new program changes the rugby landscape for students out here.”
Langley’s Caleb Gerth, captain for TWU, though disappointed with the scoreline, was happy his team could add some vital game experience to their short résumé.
“This is only our second 15-a-side game,” Gerth noted. “We’ve got a really young squad, but everyone is really committed to the program.”
He thought his team benefitted from the experience they garnered in the loss.
“It was really physical tonight,” he said “They have some really big boys and they like to put their shoulder in. A lot of our guys are fresh out of high school. So, they’re not used to that. It was a good game for us.”
Gerth acknowledged his team committed too many handling errors.
“We need to improve our play around set-pieces and improve our rucking.”
Kelly added his rugby club was thankful for their new field lights.
“I can’t say enough about the City and what they’ve done for us with these lights,” he said. “We are very grateful to the City for putting them in.”