The BC Rugby Union finals may have concluded without the Port Alberni Black Sheep’s presence this year, but some high-end rugby is still coming to the Port Alberni pitch this Saturday, May 12 as the Tsunami face the Tide in the annual Duke’s Boot match.
“It’s the highest calibre game we’ve hosted at the senior men’s level,” Port Alberni Black Sheep head coach Jas Purewal said. “We have a great venue.”
Four years ago discussions among some of the Vancouver Island Rugby Union (VIRU) teams started on how to grow rugby in the North Island. There are high-calibre players who live north of the Malahat but are unable to play on South Island teams due to work, school or family commitments. Players who can compete in the Victoria area get more exposure, Purewal said.
“There’s lots of great youth programs coming out of the North Island.”
This is the third year for this game: in 2016, the Tsunami edged the Tide 41–38, and in 2017 the Tide won decisively with a 46–19 victory over the Tsunami. Last year’s rosters included several national level players as well as a pair of professional athletes. Purewal is hoping four or five Black Sheep players will make the Tsunami’s roster for Saturday’s match.
Players in this competition play informally for “Duke’s Boot”—named for Gary Dukelow, who played for the Cowichan Piggies, University of Victoria and was a member of the Canadian Senior Men’s National Rugby team.
A highlight of his international career, according to the UVic Vikes’ Sports Hall of Fame website, was helping Canada advance to the 1991 World Cup quarterfinals.
— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) August 12, 2014
Dukelow teaches math at Shawnigan Lake School now. He will be at the game on Saturday.
Past players from this match have won national rugby titles, and both Nakai Penny and Camp Polson play professionally with the Seattle Seawolves, an affiliate of Major League Rugby with home games played at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, WA.
While having a game of this calibre is a bonus for Port Alberni, the game isn’t just a friendly: a full Vancouver Island team will be selected from this match to play against a Mainland team for the McKechnie Cup on May 26. This cup, according to BC Rugby News Association president Mark Bryant, was first awarded in 1896 and was last won by Vancouver Island in 2003.
The BC Bears provincial rugby team will be chosen from the McKechnie Cup competitors. The Bears won the 2017 Canadian Rugby Championship last year and a number of Island players were on the roster, Bryant noted.
(Former Black Sheep player Phil Mack was assistant coach on the Bears’ winning team, and is now an assistant coach playing professionally with the Seawolves.)
Kickoff for this Saturday’s game is 2:30 p.m. The public is welcome to come out and watch from the sidelines—the Black Sheep will set up some stands for the occasion—and the rugby clubhouse will be open.
“We expect 300–400 people might come up and watch,” Purewal said.
SCRUM NOTES…The Duke’s Boot trophy is an actual boot…Team Canada called up Port Alberni’s Luke Bradley at the end of April to play in the Singapore Sevens Rugby tournament in Singapore when Connor Braid was injured.
— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) April 25, 2018