Braedan Willis

The University of Victoria Vikes men’s rugby team came up just short while visiting the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver on Jan.12, losing by a score of 28-23 at the Gerald McGavin UBC Rugby Centre. With the win, the T-birds claim the coveted Wightman Boot trophy.

It was the second leg of the Whitman Boot and the T-Birds entered the contest with a 19-point aggregate advantage thanks to a 45-26 opening leg victory in Victoria on October, 20 2018. The second meeting proved to be a much closer back and forth affair with several lead changes ahead of UBC relying on two late game scores to secure the Whitman Boot for a sixth consecutive season.

“It was a close game, UVic has gotten consistently better over the years and the second leg of the Wightman Boot game is always hotly contested,” said UBC head coach Curry Hitchborn. “Coming in with that 19-point buffer on the aggregate total from the opening leg win is a blessing and a curse, it certainly makes for tougher mental sledding and you have to be precise. I’m proud of the guys for responding today after the Vikes opened the scoring, it’s a credit to the group having gone through the process this week and executing on the weekend, Saturday is their day and it’s nice to see them enjoying it.”

It was the visitors who struck first opening the scoring seven minutes into the contest as Vikes center Gradyn Bowd stepped up for an interception and a clear 40 yard run to the try zone. With the successful conversion, it was UVic with the early 7-0 lead.

UBC would respond soon after in the 11th minute with stand-off Adam Mcqueen converting on a 35-yard penalty kick to pull within 7-3. Just three minutes later that was followed by T-Birds back row Michael Smith alertly scooping up a well-executed grubber kick from Mcqueen and scampered 20 yards untouched to the try zone. With the successful conversion from Mcqueen it was UBC in front 10-7 at the fifteen-minute mark.

Shortly after it was the Vikes turn to respond with effective build up that eventually lead to No. 8 Nicholas Carson breaking free on the left flank and finding a path to the try zone in minute 19, the conversion was missed but UVic had regained a 12-10 advantage. Six minutes later the Vikes added to their lead thanks to a converted penalty kick courtesy of Bowd and a 15-10 lead.

The T-Birds would counter next in the 28th minute as Prop Claxito Martinez scored a try off of a line out drive to even the score at 15-15 before Mcqueen made the conversion for the final score before halftime and a 17-15 edge for UBC at the break.

The second half began with UBC enjoying good possession and field position and the hosts where finally rewarded in the 51st minute with a penalty kick converted by Mcqueen giving the ‘Birds a 20-15 advantage.

The Vikes would respond yet again with good build up and a try down the left flank courtesy of flanker Tom Heuser in minute 58, the conversion was missed and as a result the score was once again even 20-20. Three minutes later the T-Birds would take a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish going in front 23-20 thanks to a penalty kick from Mcqueen. That was followed up by an impressive combination run down the left side in the 69thminute that saw T-Birds Back Row Nick Allen break out for a 20-yard run before delivering a sneaky behind the shoulder pass to fellow Back Row Michael Smith who pulled away from UVic defenders and a 30-yard score. This increased UBC’s lead to 28-20 before seeing Mcqueen’s conversion attempt bounce off the upright. The Vikes would conclude the scoring in the 79th minute with Bowd making good on a penalty kick to pull within five points at 28-23 just prior to the final whistle and a Wightman Boot victory for UBC.

“I thought it was a great game,” said long-time UVic head coach Doug Tate. “I thought it was well refereed today with an even amount of penalties and a lot of big physical hits and a bunch of guys that all know each other and grew up together. I think it’s nice to play UBC two or three times a year because it raises the level, there’s some great individual efforts and team play. At the end of the day UBC did a good job on capitalizing on our errors but we’ve been playing better and I was happy with our effort and we had chances but you have to turn those into points. We looked at times but other times UBC’s execution was outstanding.”

The loss means the Vikes record falls to to 4-5 in the BC Premier League. Next up, Victoria will host the Capilanos on Jan.26 at 2:30 p.m. at Wallace Field.