St. Michaels University's Mitch Newman battles with Jay Zimberlin in the Boot Game at Centennial Stadium where Oak Bay fell to SMU by a score of 23-14.

Oak Bay loses battle for the boot

Annual Boot Game draws hundreds of rugby fans

Oak Bay High gave St. Michaels University School the boot, but it wasn’t the outcome they were looking for.

Despite a hearty effort in the final 10 minutes, Oak Bay High’s senior boys rugby team fell to SMUS in the 20th annual Boot Game. The team was unable to complete a comeback, falling 23-14 in front of vibrant crowd under the University of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium lights.

“I think it was a matter of who could impose which team’s will in the game,” said Oak Bay coach Gary Johnston. “Today they imposed their will on us. Credit to SMUS for playing the game the way they wanted it.”

Johnston, who helped kickstart the boot game 20 years ago with an actual bronzed boot from Canadian rugby standout Gareth Rees, saw his squad take the loss and tip the competitive series 10-9-1 in SMUS’s favour in front of hundreds of screaming fans.

Oak Bay’s Jack Nyren lamented what he had hoped would be a shining moment in his final year in high school.

“It was a magical event. Running out into the stadium is pretty awesome. Hearing all your friends cheer for you, but overall it was a disappointment,” Nyren said. “I was kind of dreaming of this moment to win the boot in Grade 12 in front of my peers and in front of SMUS’s peers.”

Despite entering one of the highest profile games of the high school rugby schedule as underdogs, bragging rights for the annual tussle between two of the best rugby programs on the Island went to the private school, lead by team captain Zachary Kahn.

“Playing as a senior, as a captain, it was really motivating. To see the crowd, the energy, the vibe – it really helped us perform our best,” the SMUS Grade 12 student said. “The energy it brought really carried us through when we were tired and injured and wanted to give up.”

The traditional game, patterned after the Weightman’s boot, an annual series between the University of Victoria Vikes and University of British Columbia Thunderbirds rugby programs, will see a rematch of sorts as the teams square off May 3. But another year will have to pass before the boot can be reclaimed, and SMUS coach Ian Hyde-Lay is already looking forward to what he expects will be a hard-fought affair.

“The pressure has swung, this would be considered an upset tonight. They will be really motivated, they will be well prepared, so it will be a tremendous tussle,” Hyde-Lay said. “We have such great respect for the Oak Bay coaching staff and for their programs and for their players. It was played in a great spirit, a lot of enterprise by both teams. … That is so important and I’m very happy about that. There will always be another year.”

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