The Port Alberni Black Sheep are back in action after a 16-month COVID-19 hiatus, and things are already heating up on the rugby pitch.
The Black Sheep started their competitive schedule on the road Oct. 16, and this coming weekend will host two of B.C.’s top teams in a special feature game in Port Alberni.
Saturday’s opener in Cowichan versus the Piggies was a rough start, head coach Jas Purewal admitted. With all the COVID-19 restrictions in place over the past year players were only able to practice occasionally until this fall.
“We’re coming off a couple of weeks of exhibition,” Jas Purewal said heading into the game.
“There’s a big fear of injury. People have been off for 16 months and it’s not normal to work as hard as you do during a game. So we’ve had a long buildup for that portion.”
The younger Black Sheep fell 42–3 to the more experienced Cowichan Piggies. Jayson Matthews kicked the Black Sheeps’ only points of the day.
“We couldn’t match them physically,” Purewal said. The Black Sheep played three-quarters of the game in the defensive end, holding the Piggies back from too large a score until late in the second half when they grabbed three quick tries to run away with the game.
“We’re just trying to find our feet,” Purewal said. “Being off so long, we lost a few players, unfortunately. We’ve had some new young guys come in so we’re really excited about that. Our concern right now is numbers. We have a lot of guys working shift work as usual, and the overall pool is smaller than it normally is because we’ve lost some guys.”
Elite players to visit Alberni
This Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 the Black Sheep host the UBC Thunderbirds and Pacific Pride in a Coastal Cup game.
The Thunderbirds and Pride compete in the Coastal Cup with University of Victoria, Crimson Tide (Vancouver Island’s all-star team) and Vancouver mainland all-star teams. The 2021-22 season started in late September.
“This is one of the Pacific Pride’s home games. They want to get out to different cities like ours. Years ago they used to come up here pretty regularly,” Purewal said. “They’re trying to restart that. This game between those two teams (UBC and the Pride), they are probably the best two teams in the country. That should probably decide the championship.”
“These guys are professional rugby players. They’re brought here to develop into the national team and hopefully get pro contracts,” Purewal said.
“Last year nine or 10 of their guys graduated to the Major League Rugby league in the United States on pro contracts. A couple of them are in Europe. If people want to see the highest level of rugby below international, these are the guys.”
The Black Sheep will play at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against the Castaways. The UBC vs. Pride game is slated for 1 p.m., both happening at the Black Sheep Rugby Club at the top of Argyle Street.
Because it is an outdoor event, the team will be following provincial health orders for outdoor gatherings.
“We suggest everyone wear a mask for their own well-being,” Purewal said, although as of Oct. 17, 2021 there was no provincial mask mandate for outdoor gatherings.
BC Rugby brings in vaccination rule
As of Oct. 27 anyone aged 12 years or older expecting to play sanctioned rugby in B.C. must be fully vaccinated. This includes indoor and outdoor training, scrimmages, matches and education courses and covers players, coaches, officials, team staff and volunteers, but excludes spectators.
“This is an important decision by the B.C. Rugby board and its unanimous approval reflects the priority we want to put on safety for everyone participating in rugby,” BC Rugby president Mark Lewis said.
The policy was designed to “get ahead of further anticipated restrictions” as teams return to full-contact play.
“It’s been a really hot topic over the last four months,” Purewal said. “We’re such a close sport, and there was a lot of concern about legalities. We needed someone at a higher level to step in…most of the clubs are supportive of it.
“The main concern was all the legal issues.”
Purewal said in terms of the Black Sheep squad and whether all his players are vaccinated, “I haven’t had that conversation,” but the team has talked about vaccination since practices began.
“We as a club think it’s important whatever the government stresses, we have to believe that’s the right thing to do, and we certainly do.”
SCRUM NOTES…The Black Sheep have a Facebook page where people interested in the sport can make contact. Although the club is fielding a men’s team right now, there has been a women’s team in the past when enough players were available…A rugby minis program is running on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. this year for children aged five to 10 years old. Register on the team’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BlackSheepRUFC).