BANFF – It’s huntin’ season for the Banff Bears in search of their first championship since 2018.
Sitting pretty in second place with three regular season matches to go, the men’s rugby team is clicking on all cylinders and looking poised for a deep run for the Calgary Rugby Union’s (CRU) ultimate prize.
“I don’t really care if we finish on top [of the standings] or in second or whatever, the goal is the finals and performing at finals,” said Bears head coach Lee Garrett. “The next few weeks is refining the skills.”
The Bears helped their cause on Saturday (July 23) by defending home turf and staying undefeated in their final regular season home match at Banff rec grounds.
Banff put a hurting on the Calgary Canucks, 60-17, in a no love lost, scrappy affair that had plenty of chirping and intensity between the two clubs.
Scoring tries for Banff were Carter White, Jeremy Woodcock, Alfie Phillips, Matt Lavigne, Cordell Kuzemka, Jamie Pugh and Cole Whiteside.
“Teamwork was definitely strong today,” said Garrett. “We were passing the ball when we should, the boys were running real hard and breaking tackles all day and making it really hard for their defence to do anything right.”
The Bears pounced early on the Canucks, who were asleep on their feet for the first 20 minutes. Banff scored the first four tries of the opening half including a couple of clean breaks for major yardage from White and Phillips.
On defence, the Canucks pressed late in the half and were only inches from a try after repeated rucks. But the old saying of “so close, yet so far away” must have been ringing in their ears as each time a hell-bent Canuck carried the ball in for a try, he was met by a wall of black and yellow and sent crashing to the dirt. A switch in possession at the goal line led to a boot up-field that was fumbled by a Canuck and flew right into Whiteside hand’s as he ran in another try for Banff.
Saturday was hot in Banff, but things got even more heated on the pitch in the second half.
The Canucks woke up and were first to punch one in – in more than one way. After the away team scored the next two tries, cutting Banff’s lead to 26-12, order had to be restored when some pushing, trash-talk, and alleged punches from a Canuck during tackles, boiled over.
Tensions calmed, however, and the Bears hurt them where it counted including White stiff-arming a Canuck out of the play for his third try to put Banff up 31-12.
Banff then had huge back-to-back runs from Lavigne carrying the ball along the sidelines for a 50-yard try, followed by a 60-yard try from Pugh.
The Canucks got one try back on an interception, but the thrill was short-lived, as Banff scored three more tries including a beautiful blocked kick and touch down by Kuzemka.
“You’re always nervous when you’re going into those kind of balls and you just hope you can jump high enough and not get hit in the face,” said Kuzemka, a flanker. “I got lucky.”
Kuzemka added the team really used the field, a strategy to tire out the brutes from Calgary.
“It’s nice to see us come together as a team because we haven’t got to play the last two years and, I guess, we had a little shaky start to the season and we’ve come together beautifully,” Kuzemka said.
In the CRU, Banff sits second place at 27 points – four points behind the Bow Valley Grizzlies. The teams are 1-1 this season.
Before playoffs, the Bears wrap up the season on the road for their remaining three matches. Of the trio, the stiffest test is their next match Aug. 6 against the third place Calgary Knights.
On Aug. 13, Banff travels to Red Deer for a rematch against the Titans. The two teams played to a draw earlier in the season.
In the final regular season match-up on Aug. 20, the Bears challenge the second last place Calgary Hornets.