Tommies will take pitch after all

STU Athletics will hit the field despite the Atlantic Athletic Collegiate Association cancelling its fall semester sports season in June. (Billy Cole/AQ)

COVID-19 will not stop all fall semester sport teams from competing. St. Thomas University athletics will still hit the pitch despite the Atlantic Athletic Collegiate Association announcing the cancellation of its fall semester sports season back in June. Multiple teams will play in exhibition games, which don’t count towards ACAA league play.

Mike Eagles, STU athletics director, said he is aware of sports outside of the university are taking place and he would not disallow an athlete’s decision to participate.

“It would not be appropriate for us to limit the participation of our students, if they want to participate outside of the umbrella of the university,” said Eagles.

Ron O’Flahery, chair executive director of the ACAA, said teams can make their own choices when it comes to exhibition play given the new restrictions.

“Within an ACAA perspective, that is not within our mandate,” said O’Flahery.

University teams are not limited to playing strictly ACAA games.

“It is not unusual for members to have exhibition play and they make their decisions on whether or not they want to or not,” said O’Flahery.

The women’s rugby team will participate in a series of 7’s tournaments, starting on Oct. 17, with the Fredericton Rugby Club hosting. The team will travel to play in Moncton on the 24 and Saint John on Nov 7. for more tournaments. Nathan Bustard, the head coach, said the main objective of the tournaments has been hard to figure out, with different factors affecting different possibilities.

When asked if the main priority will be to compete or develop players’ skills, Bustard said it will be hard to decide what the main priority will be and the coaching staff will discuss different scenarios. He also said it’s hard for him to make a decision because there are first and second-year players who have an important role in the team’s future. But there are also senior players with one last opportunity to compete.

“You want them to be able to have a last year university rugby experience,” Bustard said of the situation.

“On the other hand, there’s also first and second-year players that you want to see their development.”

The level of competition is expected to be the same, as it is likely other university teams will enter the tournaments as well, along with senior league teams. Bustard said if the players are available, each set of cleats takes the pitch.

While COVID-19 restrictions for the tournament remain unclear, Bustard believes there is a possibility full-contact scrums may be scratched and replace with uncontested scrums. This would still require players to set up the scrum but engaging in contact will not happen.

Justyn Roberts, a player of the men’s rugby team, suspects the same as Bustard. Roberts said there will be restrictions due to COVID-19. He said the game-ball will be sanitized at the end of each half and game and teams will have to distance themselves when not playing. Players not on the field will be required to physically-distance while on the sideline and there is potential that lineouts may not take place, but scrums will.

The men’s team first tournament will also be in Fredericton on Oct. 17. They will then compete on the 24 and 31.

Roberts is set on what he believes the team’s priority, saying the goal is to develop the team and its younger players.

“Development is always a priority, especially with a game like 7’s. It’ll really give you a workout,” said Roberts.

The Tommies have a number of players in their second season and only two in their fourth-year. Roberts also said these games will make things in their lives normal again, even if it’s just only for a couple of games.

“Just to get everyone out and get some normality back in our lives,” said Roberts.

“Competition will always be there in the setting of rugby but just going out there and getting to play will be the key thing.”