Spartans hoping to grin and bear it
Rugby: STS and Banff the toast of Tier II boys rugby
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am
The Strathcona-Tweedsmuir Spartans got a taste of what it is going to take to knock off the two-time defending South Central zone Tier II boys rugby champions.
Now they would like to take a bite out of the Banff Bears.
The new-look Spartans were on the losing end of a 12-10 score to the Bears April 23 at STS west of Okotoks in both teams opening game in the Big Sky Rugby Union.
Spartans coach Chris Ruskay is hoping they can buck the trend of losing to Banff by season’s end.
“It’s always close, but Banff always seems to get the best of us in the end,” Ruskay said.
“There’s never a lot separating us.”
The Spartans have lost some key players from their squad, but the newer Spartans are playing with the gusto expected from the STS program.
“We have some new guys in some new positions, but what is positive is everyone is working hard and they have plenty of enthusiasm,” Ruskay said.
It’s not all new Spartans on the field. There is still plenty of leadership from the likes of fly-half/full-back Stephen Powell and Okotoks’ Maclean Clark.
“He’s played a lot of rugby,” Ruskay said of Powell, an MD of Foothills resident. “He’s quite skilled and he’s very knowledgeable.”
Clark will play flanker with returning player Conner Vaandering at the other flanker.
MD of Foothills’ Wyatt Hansen provides a combination of speed and size for the Spartans in the backfield.
Those returnees will be helping a young squad.
“We have a lot of Grade 11s, a lot more than year’s past, it is just a matter of getting them game minutes and getting them comfortable.”
The Spartans usually have some game experience behind them before the start of the season. However, this season they opted not to travel to rugby hot spots such as New Brunswick and New Zealand.
“The Banff game was our first game,” Ruskay said. “I am optimistic. I think for the last five years it’s been Banff and us in the Zone II final. No slight to any of the other teams, but I expect us to be right back there.”
The key losses to the Spartans include captain Jordan Hutchings, Brett deBie, Jon Kirchman and others.
The Highwood Mustangs didn’t get mad after last year’s difficult rebuilding season.
They got cross.
“Last year we were definitely in a rebuilding year and it has paid off,” said Mustangs coach Dave Roberts. “The team has come together really well and our athletic ability has gone through the roof thanks to a cross-fit program.
“It’s made a big difference.”
The Mustangs opened the Big Sky with a 49-3 thumping of the Springbank Phoenix on April 15 in High River.
Roberts has recruited a pair of football players to the rugby squad in centres Dane Schott and Wes Wakeford.
“They have been bashing the ball through the line like there is no tomorrow,” Roberts said. “They are my top scoring players right now. They get the ball and they go.”
However, just because the Mustangs bash, doesn’t mean they don’t have any speed.
“Our forward pack has done very well and so has our backs,” Roberts said.
“My fly-half Eric Kuziw, who didn’t play last year because of an injury, is our fastest player and he also has a lot of rugby smarts.”
Roberts said while things are looking up for the Mustangs on the rugby pitch, Banff and STS remain the teams to beat at the Tier II level.
“We have some work to do before we can compete with your STS, Banff and Rundle,” Roberts said. “But I think we can get there.”
In Tier II action tonight Highwood Mustangs hosts the Chestermere Lakers at 5 p.m. The Spartans travel to Rundle College to take on the Cobras.
The other Tier II teams in the Big Sky are the Chestermere Cowboys, Springbank Phoenix and the Strathmore Spartans.
Rundle College Cobras and West Island College are in the league, but play in a different zone.