Although the Cowichan Piggies’ season came to an abrupt end on Saturday with a 23-18 loss to the Bayside Sharks in the provincial First Division men’s rugby semifinal, head coach Andrew Wright wasn’t going to let that change his perspective on the season as a whole.
“We’ve had a good season,” he said. “Obviously, from the start to the finish, it was night and day.
“We did pretty well, considering we had 16 guys in September. We ended up having a good bench, and we added some skilled players over the year.”
Along the way, the Piggies collected two Island championships — the Times Cup for all First Division sides and the Cowichan Cup for clubs that don’t field a premiership side — then beat United in the first round of the provincial playoffs before coming just a try short of advancing to the B.C. final.
Cowichan started off Saturday’s match with a penalty goal by Owen Wood. Bayside replied with a converted try 10 minutes later. Then, with a Bayside man in the sin bin, Danny Hamstra took a kick-through by Wood and fell over the line to put Cowichan up 8-7. The Sharks took advantage of a mental error by the Piggies and scored again, taking a 14-8 lead into halftime.
Bayside slotted a penalty goal early in the second half, but Cowichan replied with another from Wood. The Sharks kicked two more penalties to go up 23-11, but the Piggies managed to prevent them from taking the ball over the line during the last 40 minutes.
“The three penalties in the second half that they converted were their only scores,” Wright pointed out.
A penalty try got Cowichan within five points, but they ran out of time to close the gap.
“The clock got us,” Wright said. “We were pressing when the final whistle went. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Being so close made the loss harder for the Piggies to take.
“When you lose to a better team, you can accept it,” Wright said. “When you lose to a team you don’t think is better than you, it’s hard to swallow.”
The Sharks brought plenty of skill and size over to the Island from South Surrey, but the Piggies felt they were at least on par with Bayside, and probably surprised their visitors.
“We feel we had their number,” Wright said. “Some clinical errors on our part gave them a few points.”
Vancouver Island coaching legend Gary Dukelow helped out at a few Cowichan training sessions this season, and introduced the team to the Japanese concept of kaizen — change for the better — which the team rallied around.
“We kind of have taken it on,” Wright said. “We speak about it before games or during training. Winning or losing, it’s kaizen. You can’t dwell on negative things; you’ve got to find the positive and make it work together.”
The Piggies remain a relatively young First Division team, with Saturday’s lineup averaging about 23 years of age. This was the second year of the club’s rebuild under Wright, so there is lots of reason to be optimistic about next year and beyond.
“We’ve always got that in our pocket, that we’re building here,” the coach said. “We are super excited for next year.”