Photo courtesy of  VIU Storm Rugby program

Photo courtesy of VIU Storm Rugby program

Nini Samra

Weather forecast for the foreseeable future is “sunny” as far as the VIU Storm Rugby Club is concerned. The Storm, who have been training for a scant three months, entered their first ever 7-a-side tournament this past weekend and pitted themselves against the best in the country at the CIS National Championship at the Rugby Canada facilities in Langford.

The tournament features some of the top players in Canada as evidenced by the many national team coaches and selectors roaming the sidelines. Undaunted by the spectacle, VIU set out to compete against the top university teams in their pool—UBC-Okanagan, Waterloo, URegina and UCalgary—all experienced sides who have been attending the tournament for three years or more.

The Storm were competitive in their first game against the University of Waterloo. The 29-7 score for Waterloo belies the competitive nature of the contest that saw VIU score their first-ever try by Nick Crossen. VIU continued to struggle against a strong UBC-OK side that shut out the Storm 29-0. However, several players asserted themselves in the tackling department and served notice that VIU was not going down without a fight.

The last game of the first day saw VIU up against the University of Regina, an experienced side that are no strangers to the tournament. The Storm demonstrated their lack of experience as they had trouble playing a cohesive defense. Regina capitalized on their mistakes and ran up 41 points on the Islanders. Though lopsided, the match was once again punctuated by strong tackles by the likes of Elliot Jones and Alex Brown. VIU did manage to score a try on a well-distributed series of passes setting up Laine Vienneau to break free of a couple of tackles enroute to touching down the ball in goal. Despite the 41-7 final score, there was optimism from the coaching staff as the offense and defense systems were starting to emerge.

Day two of the tournament saw VIU paired with the University of Calgary, who were the class of the pool. A lack of focus and intensity were evident as the opposition rolled to an easy 38-0 win. There was not much to look forward to as the result put them into the consolation round against Regina.

Few expected the Storm to be able to muster much of a response against the powerful Saskatchewan side, yet that is exactly what happened. Regina scored quickly on their first possession but missed the convert giving them a 5-0 lead. VIU responded with a flurry of passes that allowed Elliot Jones to make a 40-metre break, where he was eventually tackled 20 metres from the goal line. On his way to the ground, he passed to Sawyer Barth, who was perfectly positioned in support and powered over the line for the score, dragging two opponents with him. Crossen converted and the Storm had their first lead of the tournament.

The teams traded opportunities for the next few minutes, and as the clock was winding down to the half, VIU was pressing on the Regina five metre line. Several attempts to cross the goal line were rebuffed by a stalwart Regina defense. As the half-time horn went off, the Storm were still leading 7-5.

The second half was a see-saw affair as both teams passed well offensively and defended passionately. VIU newcomers to the game James Schoeten, Vlad Tsybikov, and Shawn Price were notable contributors to the defensive effort. In the end, Regina’s offensive experience prevailed as they scored midway through the second period. Undaunted, VIU made a final offensive surge, but ran out of time. Final score was in Regina’s favour 12-7.

Though they finished without a win, the VIU Storm emerged from the experience jubilant in knowing that they had acquitted themselves well. Coach Nini Samra was ecstatic about the final match. “I am so proud of how this team performed. The result of the last game really speaks to the character of this group.”

It quickly became clear that Coach Samra’s opinion was shared by others, including Geraint John, Canada’s national team coach. Coach John made a point to come over and thank VIU for coming to the tournament and expressed interest in bringing the National Team to Nanaimo to train with the Storm in April.

Stay tuned for further developments on this front, as the future for VIU’s rugby program looks to be a bright one.