Vikes repeat as Canadian rugby sevens champions

The UVic Vikes remain champions of the Canadian rugby sevens world, defeating the rival UBC Thunderbirds in the final, to claim the 2014 title. The Vikes double up their 2013 national title by keeping the trophy on Vancouver Island for another year.

The weekend-long event, taking place March 7–9 in Langford, saw the Vikes start off by running the table in the group stage. A resounding 33-7 opening game win over the Humber College Hawks was followed up by a 61-0 demolition of the Mount Royal Cougars. UVic finally met a challenge in the last game of their pool on Saturday, but managed to emerge with a 17-12 win over the Queen’s Golden Gaels.

The Vikes only had a few hours before they were back on the field for their quarterfinal matchup against the Waterloo Warriors. Once again, UVic’s all around dominance was on display, earning their second shutout of the tournament while putting up 57 points in a Saturday afternoon rout.

The Sunday morning semifinal put the skill and depth of the entire UVic men’s rugby program on display. Having fought their way through a tough group stage, UVic’s junior team, the Norsemen, had beaten the Western Mustangs 21-12 in their quarter-final, to set up an all-UVic showdown.

While an impressive feat to advance to the tournament’s final four, the result of the game was never really in doubt. The senior squad rolled over their junior counterparts, yet again controlling the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for a 41-0 win.

Head coach Doug Tate, who coaches both the Vikes and the Norsemen, felt the presence of both teams in the semifinal spoke to the goals of the UVic rugby development program.

“I thought they played very well,” said Tate. “To beat Western, who have been in the top three or four the past few years, I thought that was a great game.”

Despite the lopsided score, Tate felt that the Norsemen provided an important challenge for the senior squad. “I think the Vikes played their best game of the tournament against the Norsemen, which is not easy to do when you’re playing against your own players.”

In the finals, the Vikes were in for their toughest challenge of the weekend. Their opponent was UBC, who had swept the two-game season series. Early on, it looked as though the third instalment of the rivalry might go the same way, with the Thunderbirds going up 14-0 early.

The Vikes found their footing, however, and stormed to a 19-14 lead with a pair of tries by rookie scrum half James Pitblado, and another from fourth-year wing Beau Parker. UBC managed to tie the game late, setting up a frantic final minute of action.

Working play up-field, the Vikes were able to deliver the ball to third-year fullback Kane Wyatt. Wyatt managed to crash through the middle and converted the winning try in the dying seconds, delivering UVic a last gasp 24-19 win and the prestigious Canadian rugby sevens title.

For Tate, the tournament win is made even more impressive by the depth of talent participating. “This particular tournament is good because it’s the one time they get to play against all their peers across Canada,” he said. “It’s a good measure against the eastern universities too.”

Tate’s excitement was increased by the fact the title came among so much adversity, both in game and during the season.

“I was very happy that the guys stepped up,” said Tate. “We’ve had some real horrific injuries this year, and the guys that have played in their place have done very well.”

Pitblado was named tournament MVP, with his efforts against UBC particularly key in the eventual comeback. Tate said we should expect nothing less from a player of his calibre.

“James stepped up in the tournament and played real well, especially in the final,” Tate commented.

Tate was also impressed with the play of Parker, who had recently returned from a long-term wrist injury. “Here’s a guy who hadn’t played for four months, so he’s a very impressive player,” said Tate.

After being reduced to nine players for the final however, the head coach was quick to point out that the win came courtesy of a true team effort.

“Other guys that don’t normally have a chance to play for the varsity team so much stepped up,” remarked Tate. “We didn’t have a big bench in the final so I thought it was even more impressive that we won in the end.”

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