The James Bay Athletic Association is back with a different look.
Famous for building their game around the thunderous forward pack, the Bays aren’t the same without forwards Dave Ramsay and Eric Forsythe this season.
But they’re out to prove they’re just as good.
With new blood added to the Bays’ always-deep program, the powerhouse club (10-1) is back in first place atop the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier Rugby League.
At some point, careers and families trump trophies, said coach Pete Rushton, whose Bays are under new leadership without captain Ramsay.
Since 2003, Ramsay has typified the Bays’ traditional ‘lunchbox’ attitude that began with Gary Johnston and Hans de Goede in the 1970s. Like the clubs in those days, Ramsay helped the club to a run of three straight Rounsefell Cup, B.C. championships. But with a small child at home and a career in the works, Ramsay has stepped aside. Instead, he and Forsythe, who’s working in Fort McMurray, are two of the most powerful Canadian rugby forwards not playing this year.
A lack of stability in the forward pack hindered the Bays in the final stretch last season, when the club was ousted by the Vikes in the Rounsefell quarterfinal, Rushton said.
“Last year, we were undefeated until late in the season. We had issues in the front row, injuries with the forward (pack), and we weren’t able to fill those spots with consistency. It hurt us by impacting components of the lineouts and the stability of the scrums.”
True to form, the Bays have been solid again this season, playing behind a starting front row of Scott Warren, J.T. Rowbotham and Russ Ward. But Warren and Ward are hurt, and despite this weekend’s bye, Rushton was doubtful that either will be 100 per cent for the Bays’ road match against Abbotsford (1-9) on April 14.
But with three games remaining, the coach isn’t worried about another lapse, and is confident with veterans Francis Yoon and Danny Hrycyk moving from the reserve squad into the premier club’s front row.
“Franny and Hrycyk have plenty of experience. That’s where depth is so important in rugby.”
Depth, and recruiting.
First year Bays Zac Coughlan (Nfld.), 22, and Canadian-raised ex-pat Adam Drury (U.S.A.), 32, have been a huge factor in the back row this season. And with late-comer Tyler Ardon, 20, a Canadian sevens player, the Bays just got another boost up front.
All three are powerful, and bring a high level of physicality to the game, Rushton said.
“Coughlan is awesome, a very talented young player with room for growth. Drury is meat and potatoes, and Ardron, as a second rower, you know he has to be good to be (a forward) playing sevens.”
Also new this season is Jeff Hassler, 21, from Calgary. Hassler will help alleviate Hugo Belanger’s absence in the backs.
Belanger had assumed team’s captaincy this year, but injured his knee against Burnaby last week and will likely be out the rest of the season.
The leadership crown will fall to longtime scrum half Spencer Dalziel, Rushton said.
Langford hosts Ontario Blues vs. Canadian Maple Leafs
Bays’ Tyler Ardron, Zac Coughlan and John Moonlight are possible selections this Saturday for the Ontario Blues in its Canadian Rugby Championship warm-up against the Canadian Maple Leafs.
The match is another coup for the Island’s rugby community, as it will be played on the IRB approved turf at Bear Mountain Stadium in Langford, home of the the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence.
Other possibles for Ontario are former James Bay player Taylor Paris and his national sevens teammate Mike Scholz of the Castaway Wanderers.
Kickoff is April 7, at 7 p.m.