First-time hosts and defending champions UBC Thunderbirds are through to the Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship (CUMRC) semifinals after a shutout victory over the Calgary Dinos on Wednesday evening at the Thunderbird Stadium.
The Thunderbirds dominated with five tries in the first half and four in the last as Calgary struggled to find their footing against a strong and coordinated offence.
A T-Birds interception within the first few moments of play started the championship on a promising note. The T-Birds were on offence for the majority of the game, quickly overtaking the Dinos through an aggressive and tightly packed defence. The Thunderbirds refused to let the Dinos over the halfway line and relentlessly played the ball close to the end zone with some impressive 40-yard runs and great passes.
“We played hard both halves. We stayed disciplined and had almost no penalties. That was a big improvement for the season,” said Raymond Chou, hooker for the Thunderbirds. “We took responsibility and came out firing. It’s a big responsibility but a great experience.”
With a lead of 29–0, the Thunderbirds started the second half with a completely fresh lineup. Four minutes into the second half, T-Birds Jacob Bourne dove into a pile of snow on the side of the pitch in pursuit of a ball booted out. Moments later when Bourne slammed the ball 20 yards from the snow bank and scored the first try of the second half, the crowd buzzed, cheering, “Go Iceman go!” Tenniel Cowen followed with an incredible three tries in a row. Max Abercrombie converted two.
“It was great we got to play 26 guys today. Twenty-six people got the chance to play in front of their fans,” said UBC head coach Curry Hitchborn. “We put ourselves in this position throughout the week coming into this. We got the majority of nerves and stress out of our system. We had a lot of awkward conversations and awkward moments to get to this point here.”
For some players, this is their first university championship. Hitchborn explained his lack of surprise on the way his second lineup played.
“That was very intentional. If we can’t substitute guys for other guys, then we’ve screwed up somewhere. That’s an expectation for these guys to come and perform that way.”
As the third-ranked team in the CUMRC behind the University of Victoria and the University of Guelph, the Thunderbirds are hoping to repeat last year’s snowy championship victory against UVic at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. They are also looking to secure their fourth title in the CUMRC’s five-year history.
Scrum-half Jack Carson, who secured a try in the first half, said “A lot of guys stepped up and we are pretty excited about what we’re seeing on the field.”
The Thunderbirds will move on to the semifinals against second ranked Guelph on Friday, December 2 at 5 p.m.
“For us to be able to rely on those within our program to do the job those have done before comes down to the simple fact that 13 men over here won a championship last year in the snow," Hitchborn said.
— With files from Mike Liu