Rugby women complete comeback charge

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SARFC wins first match in Alberta premier women's lewague with 17 points in the last six minutes against Pirates

Carys Williams ran wild to score the go-ahead try on the last play of the match as the St. Albert Rugby Football Club’s premier women rolled up 17 points in the final six minutes of Saturday’s nailbitting finish against the Pirates.

“It was an exciting end to the game,” said Williams, a British import and sleek winger, after the 32-29 thriller.

The first victory after four losses and one draw in the Alberta premier league was a massive accomplishment for last year’s division one team in the Edmonton Rugby Union.

“This win was very important. It kind of sets the stage for the rest of the season going forward,” said prop Jasmine Jarvis. “It was a must win. We were sitting sixth in the standings and we kept getting the bonus point but we weren’t getting the win.

“If we didn’t do it today it was going to be a tough battle trying to keep going this season.”

SARFC is now within striking distance of the fourth and last playoff spot in the premier table with five matches remaining and the next home is against the last-place Calgary Rams (0-6) Saturday at 4 p.m.

“We’re really molding as a team. We’re pushing forward and everyone is putting their skills together which is really good,” Williams said.

Last week the Pirates (4-2), another ERU first division team making the leap into premier, thumped the visiting SARFC side 51-22.

The return match on the wind-swept SARFC pitch with a rare Saturday morning kick-off start saw the home team cough up a 15-7 lead in the second half before lightning-quick tries by Michelle Marler, Demi Kist and Williams with time slipping away.

“It was really exciting. I’m sure the fans liked watching it,” Jarvis said.

SARFC faced a steep uphill climb after falling behind 29-15 as the Pirates rattled off four tries and one conversion during a 21-minute span and their last try was scored with 11 minutes to go.

“They came back hard in the second half. Their big forwards had a lot of energy but as we kept playing their forwards lost some of that energy,” Jarvis said.

Marler’s second try of the match started out as a lineout ball around the Pirates’ 22-metre line and it was quickly distributed towards the left side for the fullback to streak in for the score as SARFC closed the gap to nine points.

Emily Dewitt’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

About three minutes later, the next try was set up by Sydney De La Mare as rugged eight man bullied her way past several Pirates with a thunderous romp downfield before she was hauled down from behind in front of the posts. Strong support for the ball resulted in Kist, an import from Amsterdam and the team’s standoff, crossing the try line to make it 29-25.

Instead of attempting the difficult conversion kick from near the touchline, head coach Byron Elliott instructed his players to quickly line up in kick-off formation behind the halfway line with time running out and Dewitt promply booted the ball to the dazed and bewildered Pirates.

“I think we had a minute and half left on the clock losing by four points and we had scored on the touchline so it was a really good coaching decision to not go for that conversion and to get the ball back in and try and score another try and then we executed well on the pitch,” Williams said.

The Pirates advanced towards the halfway line but lost possession as SARFC was awarded penalty and after frantic tap and go the ball was swung left for Williams to go the distance with some shifty running.

“We had a bit of an overlap on the outside and our fullback (Marler) was on the outside of me so she was an option as well but I dummied and stepped through and I managed to get underneath the posts which was good,” Williams said.

The whistle blew as Dewitt split the uprights on the conversion.

“We put it together and we finally executed. It’s nice to see what we can actually do,” said Jarvis, 30.

At halftime SARFC led 10-7 on scores by Marler in the 12th minute, another splendid run down the touchline for the try behind the posts, and the first-ever try by Jarvis, a short and powerful burst to crack the try line under the posts off a deep penalty play in 24th minute

“It was very exciting. They weren’t expecting it,” said the hard-working SARFC vice-president and ERU secretary.

McKenzie Pusch, an outside centre and another dynamite SARFC back with exceptional speed, zipped into the try area with a spirited run 11 minutes into the second half for the team’s third of six tries.

“We worked hard to earn the right to go wide. We would use our forward runs and hit them up the middle and then our backs would do their thing,” Williams said. “We were working as a team and I think that was the difference in this game than in other games. We were coming more together like a unit better.

“But there were quite a lot of turnovers so that’s something we need to work on going forward, trying to retain the ball in the breakdown and work hard.”

Williams, 23, is arguably the most talented import, male or female, to wear the SARFC colours this season.

The consistent scorer with savvy attacking skills arrived from the Lichfield Rugby Union Football Club, second-place finishers in the premiership league.

Last summer Williams honed her skills an import for a team in Sydney, Australia.

“It’s a really good way to travel the world. You’re guaranteed meeting mates and a good set of people at the rugby club,” said the former U20 player for England.

As for SARFC, “It’s amazing. It’s a great facility. The deck is really good. It’s a nice sociable club. All the players are very friendly and it’s a good coaching staff. You can’t fault it really. It’s a really good experience playing here.”

Williams is also impressed with the quality of rugby at the Alberta premier level.

“It’s a really good standard of rugby. The girls are really skillful players. I’ve come over here kind of meant to be an experienced player on this team but I’m also learning things so that’s really nice.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.