Midway through the spring season, the ARFC men's team now finds themselves back competing in BC's top league, the CDI Premier League. It's been more than three years since the men have competed at this level and the team is excited to have the opportunity to once again play against the top teams in the province. It has been a building process getting back to this point, but the men have embraced the challenge and continue to grow from the roots up.
For the past several years, Abbotsford has competed in the Province-wide Division 1 league. The Club has been fortunate enough to win two Division 1 titles in the past three years (2008, 2010). In the recent 2009-10 season, Abbotsford had perhaps its most successful year since it's inception in 1972, winning five BC titles, including Div 1 and Div 2 Men, Div 1 Women, U-19 Tier 1 Men, and U-19 Tier 2 Men. The club also added an over-38's team during this season. The success of the year and presence of depth within the club suggested that perhaps it was time to push to join the Premier League. The ARFC was very pleased that it was given the opportunity to join the fall Elite league and subsequently the spring Premier league.
It was even more excited to have qualified for the Tier 1 division after preliminary matches, now having the privilege of competing as one of the top 8 clubs in the province. It is encouraging to have this new three tiered structure of the league, which has the 12 premier teams and 11 province-wide teams split into three tiers midway through the spring season. The top 8 from premier play off in tier 1, while the bottom four link with the top 4 from the province-wide to create a tier 2 league. The remaining teams form a tier 3 league. Although there are some travel challenges and other issues associated with this structure, it seems to have already provided more competitive games than the 2 tiered structures of the recent past.
For the 2010-11 season, Abby was fortunate to secure local coach Jason Young as head coach of the men's program. Jason grew up in Abbotsford and has coached locally for many years. Along with spending time giving back to the local community, Jason has coached many Fraser Valley and BC Teams. Recently, Jason has also been involved with the Canada Women's program and received a national coaching award that has sent him to Australia to work for two weeks along side the Brumbies. Jason has been well received by the players and has added exciting new ideas to Abbotsford's team.
The current Abbotsford Premier team is quite young and largely comprised of local players. With only one official import player currently in the club, Abbotsford's men's team has relied heavily on developing local talent through their youth programs. Nearly half of the starting top group is 21 or younger, which indicates the general youth of the team and bodes well for the future of rugby in Abbotsford.
Several of the current Abbotsford players have represented Canada in some capacity over the years. Prop Harry Toews, lock Scott Hunter and center Ryan McWhinney have all had the honor of playing for the National Senior Men's team. Eighth man Jeremy Swaan and wing Konrad Rybkowski both represented Canada U-19 in the early millenium. Young center Kurtis Appeldoorn recently finished a tour with Canada U-20 and is on their radar for this year's team as well.
Several other players are up and comers, working hard to improve their skills and bring success to their local club. The Abby forwards have been the backbone of the team in this new league, showing strength in ball retention and physical prowess on defense. The front row is solidified by Samoan born hooker Some Mosogau, a fierce tackler and dynamic runner who now calls Abbotsford home. Toews and Mosogau are joined in the front row by Chilliwack product Aaron Flagg, who was recently converted from lock to prop and offers impressive speed and skill for a 275 lb man. The silent assassin Thomas Agafonow has also stepped in both at front row and back row, sidestepping opponents and smashing ball runners.
Master jumper Scott Hunter is joined in the second row by lock Matts Batryn, another young player gifted with size and speed. Lee Helm, BC Rugby News "Player of the Week" in week 1, adds to the back row with his high work rate and superb jackling abilities. Swaan and Helm are also complemented by back row players Chris Chalmers and Jake Buskell, two solid youngsters who have been demonstrating that they have the tenacity and physical presence to compete in this league. Denis Bigras, Dave Prins, Mike Johnstone, and Mark Moody also add depth to the pack.
In the backs, energetic young Bryan Cuthbertson has been rotating with cunning veteran Scott Alexander at the scrum half spot. Welsh import Sam Evans has been conducting the back line at 10 with his elusive line running, proving each week that it's not the size of the dog in fight, but rather the fight in the dog. Centers McWhinney and Appeldoorn are bracketed by wings Rybkowski and strong running goal kicker Chris Gilding. Surveying the field from the fullback spot is the vocal and speedy Gareth Bartlett, whose tactical experience is invaluable in the back three. The back line is rounded out by Maple Ridge product Graeme MacRury and local speedster Shea Bourquin. Veterans Mike Makara and Mark Adams have also added depth to the back line.
With an average of nearly 50 players at each practice, competition for positions has been tight. There are many strong players pushing for spots and there are sure to be those who earn their way into the top team as the season progresses. With nearly 20 players having recently graduated from the Abby U-19 program, there is also a new injection of talented youth to put pressure on the veterans.
Playing against the best in BC has been a significant challenge for Abbotsford. The speed, fitness, and tactical knowledge of experiened premier teams has posed a learning curve for the young Abby team. Injuries have also made consistent execution difficult, an issue that all clubs certainly face in such a hard hitting league.
Despite the challenges of competing in the CDI Premier Division, the ARFC is very excited about the opportunities ahead. The club is backed by a strong executive and a large number of sponsors, supporters and volunteers. Without the endless support and effort put into the club by these people and groups, it would not be possible for the ARFC to function effectively. The ARFC is indebted to those who are invested in its cause and appreciates all of their time and effort. Please visit us at www.abbotsfordrugby.com