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Axemen ready for BCRU campaign

Young blood energizing local rugby side



Game plans are fine and all, but heading into the 2018 British Columbia Rugby Union Division 3 season, the local Axemen Rugby Club is focusing on its improv skills.

Head coach Blake Mahovic said that in an attempt to put the Sea to Sky side and two-time league runners-up over the top, he's looking to implement a style of play that teaches players how best to respond as opposed to relying on a slate of set plays.

"We've been working a lot at how we can capitalize on any opportunities that are awarded to us and we're moving away from a set-play kind of structure," he said. "We've been focusing on a broken-play, free-play kind of rugby, which is the most exciting rugby to play and thus, the most exciting rugby to watch.

"It's a lot more in ilk with what you'll see in the sevens (a comparatively wide-open version of rugby with seven players as opposed to 15)."

In addition to creating a reactive team, Mahovic said other tenets of his strategy include minimizing rucks in order to keep the ball in possession, as well as making contact as quickly as possible.

The Axemen open their season on the road this Saturday, Sept. 8 against Langley RFC. With more than a dozen new faces on the roster this year, Mahovic has been impressed with how quickly they've been able to soak in all the new information.

"From a coaching perspective, I've been blown away with how much the guys have taken on what I've been wanting to do and I've been able to accelerate the program I've been wanting to run by a few weeks," he said. "It's because of how much people are buying into it and that environment that we've got."

Team captain Neil Irwin has enjoyed the influx of new blood, especially with a system that will favour younger players.

"We have lots of fresh faces, which is great to see. There are good numbers getting involved," Irwin said. "It's been really positive and really fun to see these new people come down. Some are experienced players, some less so."

Fans can see the home team in action for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 15 against the Chilliwack Crusaders. Kickoff is 12:45 p.m. at Whistler Secondary School.

"The kind of style we're playing is more accessible to people who are new to the sport," Mahovic said. "They can see an exciting style of play, for sure."

Irwin said that in addition to on-field changes, the club has expanded its off-season training as it remains hungry to take home the crown after coming close the past two seasons.

"We haven't quite taken home that third-division title yet, so that's our big motivation, the big factor driving us on," he said. "Until we get that, I think we're going to stay pretty motivated and pretty driven to keep improving in the offseason."

Mahovic reiterated that the Axemen seek to create a rugby community, as he and other team members also coach the Howe Sound Secondary squad and help create a pipeline to the senior level. And with so many team members who are new to Whistler, the team serves as a family off the field as well.

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