Rugby women crowned playoff champs
St. Albert second division women's team advances to provincial final in Calgary after winning ERU playoff in Grande Prairie
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 06:00 am
The sweet taste of victory was savoured by the Edmonton Rugby Union champions from St. Albert in Saturday’s division two women’s final in Grande Prairie.
The first women’s playoff cup for the St. Albert Rugby Football Club since 2009 was celebrated in dramatic fashion, as the visitors overpowered the hometown Sirens in the second half with 31 unanswered points in the 36-22 come-from-behind conquest.
“It was amazing. It was the best feeling ever,” said flanker Kirsten Porter, prior to Monday’s training session for the upcoming Alberta Rugby Union final. “In the first half we weren’t playing our game and then it just clicked in the second half.”
Trailing 22-5 at halftime a determined SARFC side silenced a raucous Grande Prairie crowd with five tries and on-field captain Katie Davis kicked three conversions in the first ERU championship match staged outside of Edmonton.
“The first half their fans were so wild because this is there home team and they’re winning city finals,” Porter said. “In the second half they got pretty quiet as we kept on scoring. It was sad for them but really happy for us.”
Stage fright in the opening 40 minutes almost derailed SARFC’s championship aspirations. Krysta Florence, the women’s club captain on the SARFC board, scored the only points of the first half against the Sirens, who were competing in their first ERU final in team history.
“We were nervous and it was affecting our game. We were coughing up the ball and we were plying a little bit timid and a little bit scared. We had to calm down because we were better than that,” said Davis, one of a handful of players with ties to the SARFC second division Blues, 13-1 as winners of the ERU pennant and playoff final and provincial championship five years ago.
Before the first half ended a Siren was yellow carded for pulling Brie Gray’s hair and the penalty spelled the beginning of the end for Grande Prairie.
“The turning point of the game for us was when the hair pulling incident went down about four minutes before halftime. We didn’t react and we allowed the referee to sort out the infringement,” said head coach Byron Elliott.
SARFC buckled down and refocused on the task at hand after the incident.
“I think that made us stop making mistakes,” Davis said. “We had to use whatever energy that we had and keep pushing forward.”
With the man advantage SARFC started to rock and roll as the floodgates opened.
“We had the space so we used it and then we just used that same tactic when she came back onto the field,” Davis said. “We also realized this is going to be a team effort. We’re going to have to work together and support each other the entire way through and that really stepped up. We started to play with a lot of support and a lot of confidence. All of our talents started to shine.”
Gray rattled off two tries and MacKenzie Doughty, McKenzie Pusch and Kiara Bain also scored in the second-half onslaught.
“We started catching the ball and getting it out to our backs more. They have a really good set of forwards so it was our back side that won that game for us,” said Porter, 21.
As the points started to pile up the Sirens lost their swagger.
“They started to realize that we weren’t going to give up right until the very end until the last whistle and I think that’s when they realized they can’t be as cocky as they wanted to be,” said Davis of the Grande Prairie side that SARFC beat 47-22 at Alpine field in the ERU spring league and 31-30 on the road in the second division fixtures.
SARFC will now challenge the Calgary Saints for provincial honours at noon Saturday at Calgary Rugby Park.
“We would really like to bring it home to the club. We deserve it after how long we’ve been waiting for this,” said Porter, the SARFC social convener for the women’s and men’s teams. “We’re going to do what we’ve been doing all year. We also want to make sure we come out hard right off the bat rather how slow we were in Grande Prairie.”
Davis, 23, was more concerned about her team than the Saints, 4-2-1 in the CRU summer league.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing because at the end of the day we know how we play and we just have to bring that right from the starting whistle,” said the superlative standoff and last year’s team MVP.
SARFC is 10-4 in the combined ERU spring league and division two standings and that’s more wins than the women’s team put together since its 2009 triple crown season.
“The last time we won we had an established program but as you know we’ve had a rough couple of transition years where we’ve been rebuilding so to see the results and see the commitment follow through into a championship is huge for us. It just means we’re going to keep going forward and believe in ourselves that we’re no longer a rebuilding team. We can keep on winning championships,” Davis said.
Last year in the spring league SARFC was outscored 257-12 in five losses and the team’s 1-7 second division record included 67 points scored and 352 against. A handful of 20-0 defaulted matches added to the overall lost totals.
“Last year we only had 10 girls out for games and sometimes only four girls at training sessions and now we have 25 girls showing up so it’s a nice feeling to actually get what we deserve,” Porter said.