Port Alberni Black Sheep’s Brennan Tourangeau runs with the ball after his teammates clear a space for him against Nanaimo Hornets during a game in Port Alberni on Oct. 7. The Black Sheep won a nailbiter, 24–22. LAURIE SMILLIE PHOTO

Port Alberni Black Sheep see signs of strength in rebuilding year

Head coach Jas Purewal encouraged by new players, deeper bench

Admittedly, the Port Alberni Black Sheep have been on the receiving end of some pretty one-sided scores early in their 2017-18 B.C. Rugby Union season. But head coach Jas Purewal finds it difficult to be too hard on his Div. 1 men’s squad just yet: he’s fielding the deepest, if not most experienced roster he’s had in years.

The Black Sheep lost their first game of the season 96–0 to the Castaways of Victoria, and their second game 70–19 to Westshore.

The Castaways field three players on Team Canada; by contrast, the Black Sheep had a number of players who are brand new to rugby, and several others new to the team this year.

They have two players who have graduated from the high school team, and another player from Ontario. This year they also have several Fijian players who travel from Ucluelet to practice twice a week and play on the weekend. This brings the number of experienced Fijian players on the team to eight or nine.

“We’ve never had an influx of so many bodies,” Purewal said. “It’s a good mix.” They boast a roster of 26–28 players, something he hasn’t seen in several years—not since the Black Sheep fielded both Div. 1 and Div. 3 men’s teams.

“It’s showing a lot of promise going forward. We’re hoping for very good things over the next eight weeks.”

The Black Sheep redeemed themselves with a 34–12 victory over University of Victoria Saxons and a 24–22 squeaker over rival Nanaimo Hornets on home turf Oct. 7, before dropping another contest 33–7 to Vancouver Rowing Club in Vancouver last Saturday.

“We had a little bit of a bad start and we never really recovered from it,” Purewal said of the Rowing Club game. “We fell behind really quickly, 19–0 after 10 minutes and that really put us behind the eight ball.”

Vancouver was up 26–0 at half time. Asaeli Rokotuiwakaya scored the Black Sheep’s lone try, converted by Jordan Kurucz.

Timing and failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities have been the Black Sheeps’ downfall this season, but Purewal attributes it to new players getting used to each other—especially those in the key decision-making positions.

The loss against Rowing Club leaves the Sheep with a 2–3 record in a new format full season, and Purewal optimistic about the future.

“It’s hard to be too hard on the guys because we’re just developing,” he said following their Rowing Club loss. Players are creating some gaps but they’re not all on the same page when it comes to deciding what to do once the gaps are there, he added.

The new league format will see the Black Sheep face some different competition—not just Nanaimo and Cowichan over and over again—which Purewal is excited about.

“This year we’ve got three games against Lower Mainland teams,” he said. If the Sheep got into a playoff run, their season could extend to 26 or 28 games, and for the younger players “that’s going to be fairly exciting,” he said.

“Over the next three or four weeks we’ll get more organized as we get more games behind us. We’ve been on the road for the first five weeks other than the one game (vs. Nanaimo),” Purewal said.

“To get three weeks at home here will be pretty nice.”

The Black Sheep play three home games in a row, this Saturday, Oct. 21 against Cowichan Piggies in Cowichan Cup play; Saturday, Oct. 28 against Westshore (also a Cowichan Cup match) and Nov. 4 against Surrey.

All games kick off at 1 p.m. at the Black Sheep rugby pitch at the top of Argyle Street in Port Alberni.


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