The Southeast Thistles senior men’s rugby team, now into their ninth season competing in the Rugby Manitoba Senior Men’s Division are continuing their quest to qualify for the top Division I in the second half of the current season.
Southeast, which play their home games at A.D. Penner Park in Steinbach, currently have a 3-3 record on the season, following a 34-14 loss to the powerful U of M Wombats ‘A’ team Monday night in Steinbach.
The Wombats improved to 7-1 on the season, trailing only the 8-0 Assassins ‘A’ club.
After the first half of the season, the nine teams in the league will be seeded, with the top four teams competing for the Division I title. The Thistles are currently in fifth place, just a point back of the Wasps but the Thistles have two games remaining in the first half schedule while the Wasps have only one.
In fact the Thistles can take care of business by beating the Wasps themselves as the two clubs will clash this Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Maple Grove Rugby Park in Winnipeg.
Last year the Thistles had their most successful season, advancing to the final four, and ended up losing to the Wombats in the semi-finals.
Ste. Anne’s Les Whatford, who hails from Scotland, was the driving force behind the formation of the Southeast Thistles in 2011 and remained so until he and his family moved back to Scotland last year.
There are two original players remaining on the club, Matt Evans and Isi Massi.
Massi has assumed the presidency of the Southeast Thistles this year. "That was our greatest achievement, making it to the semi-finals last year," said Massi.
Massi says they have been managing quite well this season with 22 players registered on the team but even then in some games there is a struggle to get the necessary 15 players that can be on the field for a game.
That of course is nothing new as the Thistles have struggled with numbers in the past, as have other teams in the league.
According to Massi they welcome players to the club that have never played the game and he says that is just part of the process in helping to grow the sport in the area.
The Southeast Thistles have an international flair, with the current roster having players from five different countries, including South Africa, Canada, France, Wales and Fiji.
Massi is one of the nine players from Fiji with the Thistles. Although Massi moved to Steinbach a number of years ago, several others have come here following a recruiting drive in Fiji by HyLife.
Unlike in Canada, where rugby is a foreign sport to many in Manitoba, rugby is actually the national sport in Fiji. For the first time, rugby was part of the Summer Olympics in 2016, and it was Fiji that won the inaugural gold medal in the sport. "I happen to be in Fiji at the time," said Massi, "the entire country shut down at noon to watch the gold medal game. The next day the president declared a national holiday."
Of course things are different in Canada as they accept the reality that part of having a rugby team here is to teach the game to newcomers, it is only way they can survive.
Massi says interest continues to grow in the area such as with a girl’s rugby club now at the SRSS and there are plans to hopefully add a men’s team to the school in the next couple of years.
The final game of the first half schedule for the Thistles will be against Assassins ‘C’ on Thurs, Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Maple Grove Rugby Park.
The teams will be reseeded following the Aug. 8 games and the new schedule will then be released, which will include a few more games to be played in Steinbach.
Additional information is available on the Rugby Manitoba website at rugbymanitoba.ca.