Durham ‘newbies’ win Ontario rugby gold

John Stewart was named Durham player of the game in the OCAA championship where the men's rugby team won gold. Photo credit: Madison Gulenchyn

The new kids on the block joined up to win an Ontario rugby championship, but within a few months some of them will be tackling each other on the field.

After being absent from Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) rugby since 1996, the Durham College (DC) Lords men’s team returned in style, winning gold at the OCAA championship Nov. 17 in Oshawa. Durham defeated the Georgian Grizzlies 21-15.

Although Durham has been without varsity rugby for 22 years, team members have a strong history with the sport.

Most of the team is made up of players who play with Rugby Ontario clubs, like the Ajax Wanderers and Oshawa Vikings.

John Stewart, a fifth-year sport business management post-graduate certificate student, says the team dynamic was interesting at first.

“There was three of us who play for Ajax on the team and the rest of the team was Oshawa. [The teams are] kind of rivalries,” Stewart says. “It started off kind of iffy, but I mean it’ll be hard to go back into the next club season and try to play these guys.”

Head coach John Watkins says while he didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the season, he couldn’t be more proud of the outcome.

“We knew we had good players and players with experience, outside of playing college rugby,” says Watkins.

He says the team made a goal collectively at the beginning of the season to win the OCAA championship.

Watkins says the title will do wonders for the rugby program.

“It does give us something to build on, it does kind of establish the rugby program at Durham College. Hopefully it will recruit new players that are living in Durham that maybe are in pursuit of Durham College and also players outside of the Durham Region,” says Watkins, who expects to return as coach next year.

Stewart, who was named Durham’s player of the game, says although he was recognized for his hard work, he couldn’t do it without his teammates.

“I knew midway through the second half that I was playing a really good game. A lot of the guys were coming up to me and saying ‘you’re doing this’ and ‘this is you’ kind of thing. Once again, I stress I could not do this without the guys in front of me,” Stewart says.

Both Watkins and Stewart say the team worked well together and worked hard to win the championship. It is estimated that 25 out of the 32 players on the men’s rugby roster will be returning next season.

“[The win] is massive. I think a lot of our success was based on the fact that we were a new team. I think now a lot of people are going to wake up and next year’s going to be a lot harder for these guys,” Stewart says.