NEW GLASGOW — High school rugby teams have begun their 2017 spring season.
It is a time of expectation for both the North Nova Gryphons and Northumberland Nighthawks male and female teams as they position themselves for the playoffs.
There is even higher drama this season, with the Northumberland Region hosting both the male and female Division I provincial championships in June.
North Nova Athletic Director Shane Hampton described a scenario in which the Nighthawks will host the male provincial championship and the Gryphons will host the female finals.
The Nighthawks began setting the pace in boys rugby. They visited the Gryphons last Thursday after two one-sided road wins in league action and after winning all four games of the recent early bird tournament they were part of in Halifax.
“We’re not big but we have a lot of speed among our backs,” Nighthawks coach John Rushton said. “Our forwards are quick, too.”
The Nighthawks’ first two wins were by scores of 72-5 over the Cobequid Cougars and 63-19 against the Hants East Tigers.
The Gryphons boys went 1-3 at the tournament they visited in Saint John, N.B. Their one win was against Oromocto, N.B. and they lost close games to Harrison Trimble of Moncton, a team from Montreal and Saint John High.
“We got to play a lot of our players in the four games,” Gryphons coach Scott Taylor said.
The Gryphons split their first two league games, losing 24-22 against the host Tigers and winning at CEC.
The Gryphons halted the Nighthawks’ opening run on Thursday with a 10-5 victory. The Nighthawks’ Josh Fraser scored the opening try, but Campbell Burrows booted a penalty kick and converted a try by Baillie MacDonald to win it.
“Our game went very well,” Gryphons coach Joe MacDonald said. “They have a very good team, but it surprised them how hard we played. It went right down to the wire.”
The Gryphons entered this week with two home games on their schedule against CEC on Tuesday and Hants East on Thursday.
“They’re very good, well coached,” MacDonald said, referring to the Nighthawks. “They’re going to be tough, very tough at home.”
Nighthawks coach John Rushton said his team utilizes its speed more on dry ground, rather than the wet conditions on Thursday.
“I didn’t think it would affect us that much, but (North Nova) played better defence than we were expecting. I think we’ll be pretty strong this year but we have to stick to our game plan.”
In female rugby, the Gryphons reversed a 17-15 loss to Hants East by dismantling the Nighthawks 46-5 last Thursday in New Glasgow.
Northumberland scored the first five points of the game before the Gryphons took over with two tries each by Katie Pentz and Caitlin Taylor, one try by Grace MacDonald and 21 points by Victoria Straub based on two tries, four converts and a penalty kick.
It is rather early for teams to be playing league rugby games in Pictou County, but it’s something that is being watched carefully, Hampton said.
“We’re aware of field conditions,” he said. “We don’t want to tear them up. We’re also fortunate that teams have got enough training in, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, and are aware that the players need enough practice for safety reasons.”
It appears North Nova, Northumberland, CEC and Dr. J.H. Gillis are contesting the male Division I playoffs regionally.
Those four teams and Hants East are contesting the female Division I honours.
Gryphons’ Katie Pentz loses her grip on the ball as she’s tackled during female high school rugby game against the Northumberland Nighthawks. Pentz scored two tries as the Gryphons prevailed 46-5. (Goodwin photo)