The Comox Valley Kickers scored seven tries Sunday in a convincing 35-8 win over the Nanaimo Hornets at Cumberland Village Park to secure a berth in this Sunday’s Vancouver Island Third Division men’s rugby championship final against the Velox Valhallians.
Played in brilliant weather in front of the biggest crowd of the season, the Kickers jumped out of the starting blocks right at the opening whistle and before long dynamic centre Steve Hextall crossed for his 10th try of the season. The Kickers kept the foot to the floor, with the forwards efficiently recycling ball at rucks and mauls and feeding their fleet-footed backline.
This crispness of play saw wing Troy Mader score twice within a short time, after which Nanaimo garnered a penalty in one of its few forays into Kicker territory. Hextall’s second of the game gave the Kickers a comfortable 20-3 lead at the half.
After the break the Kickers found difficulty maintaining their first-half form. Handling errors disrupted backline plays and the forwards weren’t so efficient at the break-downs. To their credit the Hornets began to make a game of it, forcing the Kickers to put in a couple of determined goal-line stands to keep the visitors from crossing their line. Eventually, continuous pressure saw Hornets’ Jamie Kerr score wide out after a series of penalties against the home side to make it 20-8.
Following this lull, the Kickers finally began to find the form they had enjoyed in the first-half. Second-row Jeremy Grootendorst, a former Scribes club player from Vancouver, romped over for a score. “I moved to the Valley two years ago and now that I am settled I decided to take up rugby again,” says Grootendorst. “I’m very happy I did. The Kickers are a great bunch and playing rugby is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”
Veterans Shayne Stuchbery and club president Andy Eaton finished the scoring when they added late tries to round out the 35-8 win. “I was able to take advantage of Jeremy’s hard work. Overall it was a solid team effort,” concluded Eaton.
The Kickers’ victory owed much to the swiftness and guile of its backline and to the experience and rugby nouse of its forwards. All of the back-row players – Nathan Holley, Jake Nessman, captain Tony Forth and Brad Hannah – dominated the break-downs, stealing ball and making some fine runs. Nessman earned Man of the Match honours along with fullback Ross McLean, who put in his usual solid performance.
Happy with the win, the Kickers’ coaching staff of Aaron L’Arrive and Frank Baulcomb offered: “During the first 40 minutes we were disciplined and stuck to our game plan, capitalizing on our possession. The Hornets played progressively better as the game wore on and sometimes we all weren’t on the same page and didn’t match our first-half performance. Handling errors forced us to play defensively for too long.”
In Sunday’s other semifinal, Velox defeated Cowichan by an almost identical score, 38-5, setting up what should be an intriguing final this Sunday, Dec. 11, at 1 p.m. at Cumberland Village Park.