After an impressive win in the semifinals, the Sea to Sky Axemen kept the momentum going on Saturday, May 7 in Surrey, taking home the BC Rugby Division 2 Championship with a 30-15 win over the Surrey Beavers.
After finishing at the top of the league last year, only to not have a chance at the championship due to COVID-19, club captain Neil Irwin said this win feels even sweeter.
“I would say what it really does is cement our feeling that we were the best team in the league,” he said. “And as nice as it is to finish on top, there is no replacement for being able to win on the day and lift the trophy with all our supporters and our teammates and our club members around. That’s a feeling that you only get to do in one place and that’s at a cup final on the day.”
Just like in their semifinal match against Coquitlam, the Axemen got off to a quick start against Surrey, with star centre Blake Mahovic opening the scoring in the first few minutes of the game. However, that would be where the similarities ended.
Where the semifinals were an offensive onslaught, the finals proved to be a defensive struggle, with Surrey remaining in striking distance until the last 10 minutes when the Axemen were able to expand their lead.
“We knew our strengths and weaknesses, and it proved to be the case. They dominated us in certain areas of the field and made it really hard for us. I'm not taking anything away from Surrey, they gave us a good game and with a lesser defensive intensity, we would have lost that game,” said head coach Keith Reeves.
“But it just really came down to defence. I know that’s easy for a coach to say, but the boys were really up for this and some of the effort was just absolutely out of this world.”
The Axemen finished the first half up 16-7, with points from Mahovic’s try, as well as a successful conversion and three successful penalty kicks by Pete Foley.
Ed Harrison opened the scoring for the Axemen in the second half before Jack Couzens extended the lead with another try with 10 minutes remaining to seal the Axemen’s victory.
“We've beaten Surrey three times now this season, but a championship final is a very different game than playing someone in the league and they were really up for it,” said Reeves. “There's a lot of bruised and battered bodies in the changing room at the moment, but the guys have now got six months to rest now before the start of next season.”
While it’s not set in stone yet, this win opens the possibility for the Axemen to move up into Division 1 next season.
However, according to Reeves, more sponsor funding is needed if the team is going to handle the increased travel costs of Division 1, which would see them travel to Interior B.C., to play in Kamloops and Kelowna, and to Vancouver Island.
But regardless of what it takes to make the division jump possible, Irwin hopes to be competing in BC Rugby Division 1 next season and continue the trend of the Axemen club raising its competition level each year.
“Really the goal is just to keep going out and playing an attractive brand of rugby, doing it in a way that is enjoyable for the players and the supporters,” said Irwin. “But the bigger goal really is to keep growing the game here. A big part of that is going to be our effort to grow and develop our second team … and also to use this success as a springboard to keep promoting the women's game that’s developing around town and the very successful youth section.”
After the win, to aid in the goal of growing the sport in the Sea to Sky, one of the club’s main sponsors, and owner of PuroClean Restoration, Grant Blanden, presented the team with a cheque for $5,000 to continue developing the work the team does in schools, increasing interest in the sport among the area’s youth.