Resilient Lions impress in opener
Rugby: Foothills claws back for 34-31 win over Saracens
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 06:00 am
The Foothills Lions were in a message sending mood to kick-off their season.
The Second Division Lions clawed back from a 14-point deficit to triumph 34-31 over the Calgary Saracens, the top-team in 2013, to complete a dream season opening performance on Saturday at the Calgary Rugby Union.
“They were the regular season league champs last year and we played them twice and they beat us by about 20 and the other one was a blowout,” said Lions club coach Jim Ryan. “It’s very encouraging, the progress we’re making.
“My honest answer? We have better players this year, no matter what anyone says to you about coaching, better players make you a better coach.”
The Saracens broke the deadlock 10 minutes into the contest on a 20-yard run from impressive fly-half Ryan Wilkes who went in untouched on the right flank.
Foothills counterpunched on its next possession as scrum-half Reid Watkins worked the ball inches from the try zone with older brother Spencer Watkins picking up the pieces for a short score from the Lions’ new No. 8. Calgary answered immediately with persistent work from the forward ranks breaking a resolute goal line stand from Foothills.
The Lions bounced back with prop Jordan Smith’s bulldozing running setting up a short try for forward Jamie Mior, who dove in from inches out to. The successful convert made it a 12-12 game before Calgary closed the half with a late try off a penalty to take a five-point lead into the half.
“There are a lot of skilled players on their team,” said Spencer Watkins, the Lions’ man of the match. “But we’ve had a lot of guys come out this year and reignite the fire they had in high school.
“We came out a little slow in the first half with it being our first game. There was a big change in the second half, a lot less missed tackles, and the ones we made fired us up.”
Conditioning came into play in the late stages with Foothills facing a 31-17 deficit with less than 20 minutes on the clock. After Blake Barnert scored from short distance shortly after the break, the dynamic Watkins duo further made their mark again to get the Lions back within striking distance.
Spencer Watkins punched it in on a 20-yard scamper off the side of a ruck and then combined with Reid for a series of dishes between the brothers before Reid found the try zone.
The Lions took the lead for good when Jarrett Richardson booted the ball into the try zone with Foothills Nathan Marquardt and Dan Larson winning a foot race with the latter touching the ball down for the game-winning try.
“We’ve kept the fitness program in place and we think that the final 20 minutes are going to be a strength for us all season long,” Ryan added. “The other thing is we just kept at it, didn’t lose focus and kept at our game plan.”
The scheduled Division III game between the Lions and Saracens on Saturday was postponed due to a shortage of players in the Lions program. To combat the lack of numbers the Lions are bandying about the idea of joining forces with the Airdrie Highlanders at the Division III level to ensure game action for all.
“We’ve got a few weeks to sort it out because they haven’t done the schedule yet so we’re going to talk internally about if we’ve got enough guys to run two full sides,” Ryan said. “If not we’ll have a partnership Highlanders-Lions team in thirds with Airdrie so they have enough guys and our extra guys get a run in each week.”
Foothills next scheduled game has yet to be released.
Go to calgaryrugbyunion.com for the latest schedule information.