They came to play hard in Cranbrook, some from very long distances. Four Men’s teams and two Women’s teams battled it out for BC Rugby’s Saratoga Cup, held in Cranbrook for the first time, Saturday and Sunday, August 26 and 27.
In the end, the Rocky Mountain Rogues, winners of the Saratoga Cup in 2021 and 2022, took on all comers and ending up with the three-peat — Saratoga Cup Champions for 2023.
The Rogues defeated the Terrace Northmen in Saturday’s semi-final at College of the Rockies field on Saturday, then took on the Vernon Jackals in the Cup Final match Sunday — a hard-fought affair, with a final score of 31-10.
“Once you win once, it’s harder to defend it,” said James McKinstrie of the Rogues, after the final whistle. “Once you win two, everybody’s coming for you. We knew that everyone would be coming with their best team.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Terrace Northmen defeated the Elk Valley Bulls in the third place game.
The Saratoga Cup is contested by teams from three regions: the Okanagan, the Kootenays, and the Interior. This was the first year to feature a Women’s Saratoga Cup.
On the Women’s side, the Elk Valley RFC hoisted the inaugural Women’s Saratoga Cup, after taking on the Rocky Mountain Rogues RFC Women’s team and besting them in a best-of-five series. Four teams were originally scheduled to compete, but Terrace RFC and defending champions Kamloops RFC had to withdraw from the competition, leaving the Rogues and Elk Valley RFC to battle it out.
Jocelyn Manley with the Women’s Elk Valley Bulls praised her colleagues for their strong team play after their five-game sweep of the series. “Everybody’s work rate was unreal, and communication was great,” she said. “And thanks to Terrace for helping us out.”
Women’s teams in the Kootenays often have to work to make up the numbers. The Terrace team helped out by supplying some backs for the Bulls — a team of forwards.
“Shout out to the Rogues — it’s the first time in a long time they’ve had a team in the competition — it’s great to have Women’s Rugby back in the Kootenays,” Manley said.
The tournament opened with the inaugural game between the two Women’s teams, followed by the Vernon Jackals and Elk Valley Bulls in the first semi-final. (The Jackals won, 33-14). The games then alternated between the Men’s and Women’s (Elk Valley won all the women’s games). Cranbrook were victorious 33-10 over Terrace in the second Men’s semi-final. On Sunday, Terrace won the third place game, 28-26, which was followed by the Cup final Sunday afternoon.
Throughout the tournament, play from all teams was intense, but the Rocky Mountain Rogues stayed strong. McKinstrie said the presence of the Elk Valley Bulls in the league, which offered top competition to the Rogues of Cranbrook and Kimberley, helped keep the Rogues in fettle.
“Fernie is a big, physical club, and we make each other better,” McKinstrie said. “You don’t get better playing rugby unless you’re playing hard rugby.”
Dave Newson from Vancouver, for representing BC Rugby, was on hand to present the Cup.
“These players, both on the men’s and women’s sides, they make such a commitment to the game,” he said. “The distance they have to travel just to play on a weekend, it shows how much they love playing, and we got to see a great display of rugby these weekend.”
For Newson, hosting the Saratoga Cup tournament in Cranbrook for the first time was also a great success.
“For us to be guests of the Rocky Mountain Rogues, and bringing the teams here to Cranbrook, has been awesome. We really get to see what the hospitality is like in this community. That’s been excellent.”