The Eagle Impact Rugby Academy and British Columbia select sides split their games Saturday on the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
EIRA U16s were edged by BC U16s 25-24 on the final play of the game, while EIRA U17s pulled away late to defeat the BC U17s 41-15.
The EIRA U16s had won 32-12 in their previous meeting with BC U16s on Thursday. That was by far the closest game of the three (including the High School All-Americans versus BC U18s), and the rematch promised to be close, as well.
Dramatic Finish For U16sAnd so it was. The EIRA U16s opened up with an early try, and while BC answered with a penalty goal, EIRA scored a second try to lead 12-3. However, there were indications that things might be a little different this time around. The smaller, more agile EIRA team still needed to take a direct line when there was a gap but instead opted to skate back and forth looking for the perfect angle. BC, meanwhile, started to do a better job of keeping the ball and pounding up the middle.
That tactic led to a BC try and a 12-8 halftime scoreline.
In the second half, EIRA U16s cut through for a try by Ethan van Tonder, only to see the BC forwards pound their way over for a converted try. EIRA led 17-15. BC added another to take the lead 20-17, but with time winding down EIRA finally got some go-forward. One try-scoring opportunity fell by the wayside thanks to a poor pass. But from the ensuing scrum, EIRA was awarded a free kick, and after a series of phases close to the tryline, scrumhalf Brayden Goodnight sneaked over to give EIRA the lead 24-20.
But there was enough time for BC, and the Bears did what they had done much of the game, pinning EIRA back and using their big forwards to hit the interior channels. It took a while, but BC finally broke through for the game-winner.
In the U17 game, it was also more of a dogfight than it was in Thursday's 74-0 victory for the EIRA U17s. This time, BC got on the board first, and it was tied 15-15 early in the second half.
U17s Complete Sweep
BC's ball-handling and defense was much improved. But a big break from lock Dante Bandoni set up a run from hooker urt Sakata, and then props Jonah Tavai and Alex Evans finished it off.
BC replied quickly, sending the ball past some iffy EIRA defense to score from long range. That made it 10-8, but a big run from No. 8 Miles McCormick set up Bandoni for a try right on the stroke of halftime that gave EIRA some momentum.
BC scored another out wide just as the second half was getting underway, and that seemed to energize the EIRA players. After that, EIRA had the lion's share of territory. That territory would lead to the next try as BC tried to move the ball inside their own 22, and Viliami Hopoi of Central Parkway in Northern California stepped in to intercept a pass and go in under the posts. Hopoi is actually a U16 player, but injuries had forced his move up to the U17s, where he looked every inch like he belonged.
Some nifty ball-handling set up EIRA"s next try, this time for wing Andrew Martinez. And then Tavai showed a little dummy and some snappy sidestepping as the big prop looked like a flyhalf as he went over to make it 34-15. One more try, this time from Jonah Auvaa, finished it off.
What the U16s learned, the U17s delivered, which was how to close out a tight game. Overall, it was a 3-1 trip for EIRA and some useful exposure to international competition.
With Eagle Impact Rugby Academy sending a squad to Ireland, and also U17s and U16s to Ontario, the program was challenged to find players. Coaches and organizers had real concerns they wouldn't be able to find sufficient rugby talent at this age. But they managed, as the players put their hands up and embraced what has been a serious rugby endeavor.