BC Premier Reserve Final Meraloma vs UBCOB Ravens
The Premier Reserve final was set up to be a thriller. A hot sunny day and two long-time Vancouver West Side rivals going head to head for the championship glory on the final day of a long season. The Lomas had won Provincial Championships in the lower Division the previous two years, but this was different. The step up to the Premier League meant better teams and harder games, and to win a third successive title would be no easy feat, but the Lomas set down a marker in this competition by finishing in second place with a 16-4 record.
The Loma Premier Reserves, known at the club as the Baa-Baas, earned their ticket to the final through the hard work put in over a long season that started in back in late summer heat of August. The pre-season seemed eons ago, since then the team battled various weather conditions in games and at practice as mother nature threw in freezing rain, snow and chilling winds on a regular basis.
With each passing week the Baa-Baas players improved both in games at training; combinations began clicking and the cohesion and camaraderie on and off the pitch was evident as the days, weeks and months passed. However, not only were the Lomas improving but the Ravens were the most improved team in the competition in the second half of the season. In fact, the Ravens were undefeated in 12 matches with their last loss coming in December. What’s more, is that the Lomas last loss was to the Ravens in January in arctic conditions by a score of 18-13. The Ravens road to the finals was more difficult. Having finished 5th in the regular season meant a challenging playoff run, but the Ravens convincingly dispatched their competition, 2017 finalist and 4th seeds Uvic in the quarter final and 2017 winner and number one seed Burnaby Lake in their semifinal.
The standard of play in the Premier Reserve league is very high; many players regularly get time at Premier level or already have extensive Premier experience from prior seasons. The final only solidified this as it was evident in the Ravens roster on the day; Premier level stalwarts from seasons gone by suiting up for their Reserves evidence of the depth they currently possess. Luckily for the Lomas, their final roster was consistent with the squad put out on a weekly basis, and were missing only two key players, casualties of a bruising semifinal match against Castaway Wanderers.
The day was shaping up to be great one for the Lomas. With the Women’s having won the Division 1 Championship earlier in the day, and a busload full of supporters and alumni on the sidelines, the Meraloma club saying “Once a Loma always a Loma” showed on this day and added to the buzz before kick-off. The hot sun energized players and supporters alike and only added to what was to be an incredible match ahead.
From the first whistle the game was played at an electric pace. The Lomas attacked immediately shifting the ball and finding space in the wide channels; a well worked move their own half with some quick hands from the midfield was stopped at the Ravens line as a good cover tackling knocked the ball carrier into touch preventing an early score. The Ravens used the boot of their #10 and #15 intelligently as they had done the previous few weeks; however, the Lomas back three dealt with the threats well, and with Killian Marmion in scintillating form at fullback, and both wingers running strongly, the Lomas speedy back three were happy to counter attack all day. The Ravens had already received an early warning of the threat the Lomas possessed in the backline, and despite being denied before, there was no mistake the second time. Shifting the ball with speed and precision along the backline to the wide channel, the ball found eventually found a home in the hands of Loma winger Dom Boyd, who finished strongly in the corner.
The Ravens look shocked, but to their credit responded immediately with a score of their own in the corner to tie at 5-5. Taking control of possession, the Ravens followed up with score with sustained pressure and the #10, using great footwork, jinked through the line under the posts. The straightforward conversion was missed, but the Ravens now were ahead in 10-5. The back and forth play continued with the Lomas applying sustained pressure which, after a few hard hit ups by the forwards following a line out, the Ravens expected the Loma backline to spin the ball wide, second row Teddy Arnason alert as ever spotted a gap at a ruck and jumped over a diving defender to score. Following the conversion, the Lomas led 12-10 and players, coaches and supporters knew we were in for a long day of entertaining back and forth rugby. In short, this was going to be some game!
See-saw action saw the Ravens cross the line after good support play and now the Jericho side led 17-12. On the brink of halftime, the Lomas had an opportunity to score again, but a staunch Ravens defense pushed the Loma the ball carrier into touch after a well-executed lineout drive. A sure score was left hanging.
The second half started much like the first, intense. Scoring first with a penalty the Lomas closed the halftime gap to 17-15 for the Ravens. Then came the play that changed the game. At the midpoint of the second half the Ravens were awarded a penalty on the Loma 5-meter line directly in front of the posts, and instead of taking the three points, the Ravens elected for a scrum. Having the upper hand in set pieces for most of the afternoon, it seemed like a bold, yet smart decision. However, as the Ravens #8 picked and tried to pass the ball to the #9, patient Loma flanker Robbie Wright intercepted the ball and the big man and took off on a 95-yard run against the flow. The Ravens #10 gave chase and despite being tackled metres short of the line, Loma support followed and with two outstanding offloads, winger Rob Fallon dive over the whitewash for an incredible score, much to rapturous applause from a jubilant touch line. The Lomas were back in the lead 22-17. An almost guaranteed three-point penalty conversion turned into a 7-point Loma score and was the obvious momentum swing the lads needed. The Ravens weren’t done though and responded with a penalty making the score 22-20 and setting up an agonizing final 15 minutes.
Not wanting to sit on their lead, the Lomas continued to attack out wide which led to another clean line break in the wide channel that was quickly followed by a deft inside ball to strong running support. The attacking play nearly resulted in another try only for the ball carrier to lose the ball forward as he grounded with the line at his mercy. The Lomas were not deterred, nor was the boisterous crowd, and the players continued to exploit the wide channels where the Ravens #13 had struggled to contain the pace and outside break of the Loma backs all day. Again, the Lomas found the try zone, but were deemed to be held up by the scrambling defense of the Ravens. With two golden opportunities to close out the game, supporters and players were starting to get nervous as the clock ticked closer to 80 minutes.
Having now controlled the game for the latter portion of the second half, thanks to the energy brought on by an experienced Loma bench, captain Olly Owen and the troops were calm and poised in the waning minutes and tied up the Ravens big pack and sent them backwards. Hard running ball carrying in the narrow spaces from the tight 5 were followed by the backs exploiting the wide channels or a tiring Ravens defense. Prop forward Wes Lee was a major headache for Ravens tacklers; at a minimum it took two defenders to stop him each time he ran and his powerful runs gave the backs valuable go forward ball. On a day where the pace of game and the scorching sun left players exhausted, the Lomas squad showed strength and depth with each like for like replacement making a major impact as they entered the game, and lifted the intensity.
With a minute left on the clock, the Ravens were awarded a penalty on the half way line, kicked deep into the corner and cleanly won the ball from a lineout. However, the Loma defense came to the fore and they managed to hold up the Ravens ball carriers after two phases, turning the ball over and winning a scrum. The next play was vital as it was the last play of the game and with an excellent pack that enjoyed the advantage in the set pieces for much of the day, the Ravens had to win it, but to no avail as the Loma pack dug deep and secured their own ball. Following a short carry, scrum-half Stuart Turner had the honors of booting the ball into touch, the final whistle blew and the Lomas were champions! Agony for the Ravens; ecstasy for the Lomas. As one group of players dropped to their knees, others leapt for joy and the thrilled sideline of Loma supporters stormed the field to congratulate the players. Both teams were exceptional, and showed why they were deserving of being in the finals and that they were indeed the two best teams in the competition. The key to the Loma win was surely consistency over the course of the season and an ever reliable and steadfast bench.
Much credit is due to the Ravens, whose stiff defense and talented players proved worthy competitors. The Ravens were strong up front and had the edge in the sets, but it is ironic that the turning point of the game came from a Ravens scrum. Both teams played a game of the highest quality that was surely fitting for a grand final. As a side note, congratulations must also be given to the Ravens Premier team on winning the Rounsfell cup.
The Meralomas enjoyed a successful campaign in all divisions and the return the Premier League was welcomed amongst players. The Third Division men lost a close semifinal to Capilano, but had a steady roster of nearly 30 players each week. The Women’s 1st Division won the championship. The Premier Reserves followed suit and won the Championship, to make it three trophies in row, and the Premier Men competed each week taking down a number of top teams during their season.
This was a tough schedule but each week all the Meraloma players and coaches answered the call of the Black and Orange and brought home more hardware to the Connaught Park trophy cabinet on the club’s 95th anniversary.
Congratulations and thank you to every club, player, coach, support staff, alumni and fan that made it through another season of rugby in BC. See you all in September.
Once a Loma, always a Loma.