The Cowichan Piggies returned to competitive rugby on Saturday for the first time in a year and a half, defeating the Port Alberni Black Sheep 50-7 in an exhibition match ahead of the Second Division season.
The teams played two periods of 30 minutes and one of 20 minutes in order to get more subs into the game, and the score was actually close after the first half hour.
“It felt like we played defence for the first 30 minutes, or at least a good 20 of the first 30,” Cowichan head coach Andrew Wright commented.
The Piggies got a bit further ahead in the next 30, and then it was all one-way traffic by the end of the match. Wright doesn’t expect the same thing next time the clubs meet.
“A few of their key players were tied up,” he said. “When we see them again on Oct. 16, they’ll be a different side.”
The Piggies were well-prepared for the match thanks to the additions of several new coaches to Wright’s staff. Tyler Buck, who handles conditioning for the MacDowell Rugby Academy at Cowichan Secondary School, has been helping the team get in shape.
“One day a week, he’s helping us get our fitness up,” Wright explained. “All the boys and even people on the sidelines could see our fitness was at a high level for this time of year.”
Former players Peter Budina and Robbie Wright have been working with the backs and forwards, respectively, and two physiotherapists from Active Solutions Health + Sport in Ladysmith have been helping the players as well.
“I think COVID let people rest and now they want to do things to fill their time up,” Wright suggested. “It’s good to have five or six people on the coaching staff instead of just one or two.”
The players on this year’s team range in age from 17 to nearly 40. The club will play for the Times Cup in the fall and prepare for provincial competition in the spring. The Cowichan U19 and U17 teams practice on the same days, and several players have been carry on training with the senior squad.
On Saturday, several Island teams, including Cowichan and Port Alberni, warmed up in orange T-shirts to honour the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and the Piggies and Black Sheep gathered together for a photo prior to the game.
The Piggies will have the Thanksgiving weekend off, then host Port Alberni again for the regular-season opener at 1 p.m. on Oct. 16. Cowichan’s women’s side will also be in action that day, travelling south for a jamboree at Westshore.