Zone champions and bronze at provincials the last time they took the pitch, the Lindsay Thurber Raiders boys rugby team have been training since Feb. 15 for the 2016 season.
Head coach Dean Plant said last year’s squad was a solid older squad who played a close semifinal game at provincials.
“You get cycles where Grade 12s leave,” said Plant. “Ultimately they’re only here for two or three years and then they move on.
“It’s important that we have a really solid program and the kids are knowledgeable and want to win.”
Plant said he doesn’t quite know yet how his team will do this year, saying Hunting Hills could be a strong team this season and have an up-and-coming program.
Hunting Hills and Lindsay Thurber met for an exhibition game last Monday night, the Raiders won 29-21.
They have been training indoors since Feb. 15, putting the wrestling mats down and practicing ball handling and as much contact as they can. Plant said they can’t full-out tackle until they get outside.
Plant said this year’s team will have a strong backfield featuring a Grade 12 rookie, Ben Pasiuk. Pasiuk has a football background and this is his first year playing rugby.
“Just from practice we know he will be a force to be reckoned with,” said Plant.
Another important players to the team include fourth-year player Dawson McRae.
“We have a good scrum half including Adrian Ollewagen, he’s quite good, and I have a big, big number 8 — Carter O’Donnell — another football player,” said Plant. “And Connor Stalwick, who played some provincial rugby last year. He’s going to be quite good.”
Two players Plant may rely on this year come from a football background. He said often times he will get football players, but typically only in their Grade 12 year.
“It’s different, it’s not like football,” said Plant. “I have to start from scratch with them. Where if I had them in Grade 10, they could learn a bit, get a few games under their belt and by Grade 11 they’re on the field and by Grade 12 they’re stellar.
“It’s a very steep learning curve in a very short season.”
Plant said the team wants to try to get to provincials this year.