A lot of wind and some freezing rain couldn’t stop the Durham College (DC) men’s rugby team from getting in another practice before they go for gold this weekend.
They will face off against the Georgian Grizzlies on Saturday in the OCAA Men’s Rugby Championship in a game being played a 10-minute drive north of DC’s main campus. The Grizzlies are no strangers to the game, having won gold during the 2016-2017 season and bronze last season.
The two teams won their respective divisions and have not faced each other this season.
DC head coach, John Watkins, has a lengthy association with rugby, playing for more than 30 years and coaching with the Oshawa Vikings Rugby Club since 2007.
After losing their first game, the Lords have redeemed themselves, winning six straight games heading into the championship.
“I think we’ve had a successful season because the players have really bought into the program and set high expectations at the beginning of the season,” Watkins said in an interview prior to a workout Wednesday in less than ideal weather conditions.
The Lords practice at least three times a week. Watkins said the team has used those workouts to build its structure and game pattern.
But building team momentum isn’t so easy, especially since this season marks Durham’s return to varsity rugby after a 22-year hiatus. Some players had not played rugby together before, Watkins said. With this in mind, the coach wanted to build camaraderie among players.
Watkins says the team created a leadership committee, made up of players who played competitively elsewhere before suiting up for DC, to keep the team focused and organized. He says this has also helped the coaching staff.
The camaraderie is particularly strong for a trio of Lords. Two members on the team don’t only refer to Watkins as ‘coach’, they also know him as ‘dad’.
Justin and Reese Watkins have grown up playing rugby and having their dad doubling as coach is nothing new.
Justin acknowledges this team wasn’t expected to do well because it is in its first season.
“Every team that we’ve played underestimated us and underestimated how good and how well we’ve practised,” he said.
Justin said rugby has taught him the values of teamwork, self-respect and discipline, which will all be needed for Saturday’s game.
“Our team right now is very confident but calm, they’re putting the work in,” coach Watkins said.
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the future looks very positive for rugby at Durham.
Twenty-five of the 31 players on the current roster will be returning next year. Watkins says this will create a good base to build on this year’s success.
The game starts at 1 p.m. at Thompson’s Rugby Park, 110 Raglan Rd. W., in Oshawa.