The rugby season may not start until late April, but the Barrie North Vikings kick it off with months of work under their belt. The senior boys team, like its junior squad, has been going at one form of rugby or another since the winter season began.
The hope for the Vikings is that it will allow them to hit the ground running in regular-season action.
“We’ve been practising since the semester started, one night a week in February and March,” said Vikings coach Ron Andrews. “The good thing was that we implemented touch (rugby) at lunch, so we were doing that, three times a week, starting in late November. Like any sport, the more touches of the ball, the better, and so their skill sets are definitely improving.”
Andrews and fellow coach Steve Porter came over to the Vikings when Barrie Central closed at the end of the 2015-16 school year. They carry a ton of rugby knowledge and experience, not to mention provincial championship gold medals. After getting everyone on board last year, things have been a little more familiar this season.
“They’ve gotten to know Steve’s and my personality, and more importantly, how we want to play rugby in terms of technical and tactical components,” Andrews explained. “We installed the same systems at the junior and senior levels last year, so it’s a lot easier for the juniors coming up to get a base system of what the seniors were doing. We’re able to progress into a bit more depth than last year and it’s been a good progression so far.”
Following a long stretch of practising indoors, Barrie North finally got out of the gym and onto the pitch at the end of March to test things out.
“We went down and played Denison (in Newmarket) at their new turf field,” Andrews said. “We had a controlled scrimmage against them, so that was fantastic. It gave us a chance to install our systems and give feedback as it was happening.”
It was good timing for a contest, given that bad weather took away a few more opportunities the following week.
“We’ve been out on the field at Georgian College twice a week, starting (at the end of March), so that’s been good, but we’ve had to cancel some of them because of the snow,” Andrews said. “The weather wasn’t very good last year, with it being windy and rainy a lot. This year, it’s snow. Like every other school, we’re behind the eight-ball based on where we live.”
Despite getting some practices shelved due to the blustery conditions, the Vikings, now in their second year with the new systems, are miles ahead of where they were a season ago.
“Last year, it was basically like teaching a new language to them in terms of the cue and keywords we use for them,” Andrews said. “This year, it was awesome, because we started almost in mid-season form. When we played Denison, we really saw that, because we played at where we were midway through last year.”
This year’s group of seniors will be bolstered by a handful of players from last season’s junior squad, one that ran the table in Simcoe County en route to a Georgian Bay Secondary School Association (GBSSA) title.
“The juniors won GB’s, which was fantastic, and went to the Barbarians Cup and had three close games to help them realize how competitive it is within the province,” Andrews said.
Barrie North enters the season in good shape, but know that it will be in tough against last year’s senior champs.
“(The) Nantyr (Shores Tritons) could have won provincials last year, which shows the quality of the athletes and coaches there,” Andrews said. “They’ll be the team to beat again this year and we’re looking forward to playing them. I’m looking forward to playing our style of rugby.”
Photo courtesy of Steve Porter