Barbs power past Rams for another Russell Cup rugby title

Rugby players are a hardy lot.

Evan Cambridge, suffering from the flu, got out of his sickbed to captain Oak Bay to a record 39th Howard Russell Cup championship for Lower Island triple-A high school supremacy Thursday with a 39-17 home-field victory over the Mount Douglas Rams.

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Mason Swift couldn’t lift the Rams to what would have been the school’s third-ever Howard Russell Cup title. But it wasn’t for lack of trying as Mount Douglas attempted to become the first team other than Oak Bay or St. Michaels University School to win the Cup since Spectrum in 1988.

Earlier Thursday, Swift was winning silver medals in both the 4x100 metre relay and the shotput at the Island high school track and field championships at Centennial Stadium. If that wasn’t enough, Swift scored a try despite also being in the midst of a 30-hour famine to raise funds for a charity.

“Yeah, I’m [tired and hungry] but I’m half Tongan and rugby is in my blood, even if I’m relatively new to playing the sport,” said the star of Mount Douglas’s two-time B.C. champion football team, who is headed to play CIS next season for the University of Guelph Gryphons.

“Rugby will definitely be my choice if football [CFL or NFL] doesn’t work out.”

Cambridge, meanwhile, is a rugby guy all the way and headed next season to play in the Vikes program and study engineering at the University of Victoria.

“[Swift] is an outstanding player and we knew he was going to be tough,” said the Oak Bay No. 8, who has already travelled widely in the sport with the B.C. team as a U-18 medallist at the Hong Kong and Las Vegas Sevens tournaments.

The Rams were the first team other than Oak Bay or SMUS to reach the Cup final since the Stelly’s Stingers lost to SMUS in 1991. But despite boasting 18 players from its provincial champion football team, Mount Douglas couldn’t stop the day from belonging to Oak Bay.

“It’s sweet to hoist this Cup as Barbs captain,” said Cambridge. “We want to keep the Oak Bay rugby tradition and reputation going.”

Oak Bay fullback Conor McDiarmid scored three tries as the Barbs broke open a 12-12 game.

“We committed to tackling in the second half,” said McDiarmid.

“Everyone stepped up and did what needed to be done against a big, physical team like Mount Douglas.”

Oak Bay coach Murray Allen noted the history of the Howard Russell Cup and the numerous World Cup players for Canada that have played in it as high schoolers. His Barbs added another chapter to the story Thursday.

“Mount Douglas has the great [football] athletes but we knew if we moved the ball around, and went sideline to sideline, that they would wear down,” said Allen.

Oak Bay is ranked eighth in the province in triple-A and Mount Douglas is an honourable mention. The four-time defending B.C. champion Shawnigan Lake Stags are ranked No. 2 in B.C. behind top-rated St. George’s of Vancouver.

Meanwhile, SMUS went to double-A this season because of school numbers and the provincially fourth-ranked Blue Jags defeated the Glenlyon Norfolk Gryphons in the Lower Island Colonel Jack Hodgkins Cup final Thursday at Oak Bay.

The provincial playdowns in both triple-A and double-A begin May 25.

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