A profound message was delivered by St. Albert’s queens of the pitch in Wednesday’s statement game against the undefeated Pirates.
“You handed them their first loss and they are so bitter. For you guys, that’s the biggest compliment,” an overjoyed head coach Byron Elliott told the ladies after the handshake formalities with the Pirates at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.
First place was on the line in the Edmonton Rugby Union’s division one table and the showdown matched the hype as the game of the year.
“This is a huge win for us, probably the biggest win of our season so far,” proclaimed fullback Michelle Marler after the 46-45 thriller. “The defence was there and the offence was there so we came away with a win today, which we’re super happy about.”
The SARFC women improved to 6-2, four points in front of the Pirates (5-1). Both teams have six bonus points.
“Let’s go forward from here. Let’s not drop off the cliff again,” said Elliott in the post-game huddle, in reference to last Saturday’s 59-12 train wreck against the Clan at Airways Field.
The first of 11 tries by the third-place Clan (5-3, 5 five points) was scored in the third minute and the deficit ballooned to 25-0 with 15 minutes left in the first half. At halftime SARFC trailed by 30 and it was 47-5 when SARFC posted a converted try with under 10 minutes remaining.
“This season we’ve really been up and down: a big loss (32-21) against the Pirates, a win against the Pirates, a big win against the Clan (31-19 June 29 at SARFC) and a loss against them,” Marler explained. “We just have to keep up the momentum, we can’t lose that, and the mental strength too. We have to make sure we go into the game with the right head set.”
Defence was the difference between the loss at the Pirates Rugby Club on June 4 (“It was a rough game,” Marler recalled) and the victory on their home pitch.
“We were getting sucked in at the breakdown. They are a hard team. They just keep hitting you and hitting you and hitting you. You don’t have time to wait and you don’t have time to reset,” Marler said. “This game we were getting back into our line and hitting them again so it was mostly our defence that really helped us.”
SARFC rebounded magnificently from the Clan debacle.
“We were very nervous about this game because the Pirates were undefeated. We just had to really focus on working together as a team defensively, jogging back and looking forward at the offensive players, lots of talk, making sure that there is no overlap and then obviously working on our offence, which we don’t usually have a problem with.”
SARFC rolled up eight tries and kicked three conversions, while the Pirates countered with seven tries and five conversions, as the lead changed hands a whopping 10 times. At halftime it was 26-22 Pirates.
“It was a great effort. That was a gutsy, gutsy performance,” Elliott said with pride as the players burst into applause. “You’re going to get a love up on that (SARFC) deck. You deserve it.”
The scoring spree started in the third minute by the Pirates and winger Kolby Kruger replied six minutes later as the finisher on the second penalty play in front of the try line by SARFC as the ball was swung to the right side after Maddy Doyle was stopped short of crashing through the defence.
Two minutes into the second quarter the lightning-fast Marler raced across the try line and the Pirates responded with two converted tries to make it 19-10.
A yellow card to prop Jasmine Fleming – SARFC’s vice president, ERU secretary and the 2015 ERU’s outstanding club administrator award recipient – for putting the boots to a Pirate on a retaliation play, didn’t stop SARFC from stringing together a pair of scoring runs two minutes apart by Mackenzie Pusch. The lethal winger is coming off an impressive freshmen season for the Central Washington University Wildcats with 25 tries as the team made a deep run in the 15s and sevens national playoffs. Her second try, under the posts, was converted by Nicole Schlemko to put SARFC on top 22-19.
The Pirates ended the first half with a converted try and the blushing Fleming still in the sin-bin.
Fleming was granted parole from her sentence after forward Karilee Kaiser muscled her way over the try line three minutes into the third quarter. The play started with Brie Gray’s run past the halfway line, followed by determined advancement of the ball by the team before Kaiser completed the drive.
The lead switched sides four times after the score, with hooker Holly Robinson and Marcia Davis, another super fast back, putting points on the board and Emily Dewitt splitting the uprights with a conversion as SARFC regained the lead at 39-38.
Paul Kane high school products Sydney De La Mare, a second-half sub slotted in at eight-man, and Dewitt at scrumhalf helped orchestrate Robinson’s try with brilliant individual efforts in the Pirates territory.
Davis cracked the try line with a lunging attempt while tackled from behind following some crafty running by Marler.
Four minutes after an iffy forward pass call by the referee whipped out a wicked De La Mare to Davis to De La Mare scoring sequence, De La Mare – a physical force with blinding speed – had fans chanting her name with a long, majestic romp for a try under the posts. Dewitt was successful on the conversion to stretch the lead to seven points with 11 minutes to play.
The Pirates pulled to within one with a converted try with seven minutes to go and then SARFC buckled down defensively to seal the deal.
Marler, 28, said the players kept their composure despite the rash of tries by the Pirates.
“We were really focusing when they got those tries and a few of the tries in our opinion were held up so we tried not to get down on ourselves. We were also having some issues with the ref too, just him missing calls, so we really had to work on team morale. We were getting a little short with each other against the Clan and we addressed that on Monday (at training) and today everyone was great. It was good team-manship. We wanted this win and we just kept trying for it even when we were down,” said the team’s new captain in place of eight-man and last year’s MVP, Sabrina Kelly, who is gone for the season to teach in Sweden.
The next match is against the Grande Prairie Sirens (0-7) during Saturday’s tripleheader at SARFC at 2 p.m. The third division men (2-6) battle the rival Clan (4-3-1) at noon and the Alberta Cup premier match between SARFC (6-1), the Labatt’s Cup provincial champions the last two years, and the Nor’Westers (4-3) starts at 4 p.m.
SCRUM BALLS: The SARFC U18 women are 4-0 entering Wednesday’s ERU match against the Parkland Sharks at 7 p.m. at SARFC.
Half of the roster consists of players from last year’s ERU finalists.
The last win for the U18 team was Monday’s 65-0 landslide against the Strathcona Druids at SARFC.