X-Women dom­i­nate in U Sports rugby ti­tle win

Annapolis Valley Register - - SPORTS - BY BILL SPURR SALTWIRE NET­WORK

Prov­ing they can win in nice weather, too, the St. Fran­cis Xavier X-Women downed the Guelph Gryphons 41-24 to win the U Sports women’s rugby cham­pi­onship in Wolfville Nov. 4.

Prop for­ward Sam Lake of Wind­sor scored three tries, in­clud­ing a dash over the try line in in­jury time that prompted the play­ing of The Kid is Hot Tonight. Though her per­for­mance some­how eluded the player of the game se­lec­tor, Lake agreed with an as­sess­ment that she had just played the game of her life.

“I like to think so,” she said. “I think we were all ex­cited to prove ev­ery­body wrong, that there are other ways we can do it. We wanted to show them that we’re all-round great, we don’t have just one game plan, ev­ery­thing can work for us.”

“It’s the phys­i­cal­ity all around the team, it’s awe­some and some­thing they haven’t seen be­fore, it re­ally helped us …,” said Lake, whose per­for­mance came in front of her par­ents, who played rugby and soc­cer at Aca­dia.

Lake’s front row mate Jo Alphonso, back row for­ward Olivia DeMer­chant and lock Amelia Hat­field each had one try, while Danielle Franada kicked four con­verts and a penalty, and had a try-sav­ing tackle.

Gale force winds and teem­ing rain for the quar­ter and semi­fi­nals suited X’s bru­tal style of straight-ahead rugby just fine. The fi­nal was played in con­di­tions that bet­ter suited the niftier Gryphons, and their four tries were scored on more ex­pan­sive play, but the X-Women had too much pos­ses­sion for Guelph to se­ri­ously threaten.

Six tries from a pack of for­wards is quite un­usual, but re­flects the style of play that X coach Mike Ca­vanagh teaches.

“Ev­ery­one wants to play like the All Blacks, but only the All Blacks can play like the All Blacks,” he said. “We play to our strength, we know we’re not go­ing to be able to get our for­wards run­ning around the field, we’ve got a big pack of for­wards and we’ve got to keep it sim­ple, do what they do best, and that’s what we do. Our backs played well to­day, they kicked well, had a cou­ple of big runs, kept us go­ing for­ward.”

For Ca­vanagh, it’s the sixth na­tional cham­pi­onship of his 20year ca­reer at St. F.X., which is one more than all other X teams com­bined.

“We’re happy with that,” he said. “The girls re­ally showed up to­day, played some great de­fence. They’re a good team and you saw they can be dan­ger­ous. We had some big tack­les, some big turnovers, we stuck to our game plan of get­ting in their half and pound­ing away. I couldn’t ask for more from them.”

Amelia Hat­field was the player of the game for X, which has 19 Nova Sco­tians on the ros­ter. Kylie Shaugh­nessy was cho­sen for the Gryphons.

The cham­pi­onship was the fi­nal game of the sto­ried ca­reer of Alphonso, a three-time AUS MVP. Known for her dom­i­nance in the pick-and-go game, and in the fi­nal she was all over the pitch, run­ning in loose play and mak­ing one thump­ing tackle that forced a Guelph turnover and led to an X try. She runs like a player much smaller than she is.

“We work hard in prac­tice, we do a lot of fit­ness and I don’t know why she doesn’t get looked at by the na­tional se­lec­tors; she’s a world class prop in my opin­ion,” Ca­vanagh said. “She can do it all, she played scrum half for the li­ne­outs.”

Alphonso’s try came right af­ter Guelph had scored on their first pos­ses­sion, and set the tone for the phys­i­cal dom­i­nance that was to come. On the week­end, nine op­pos­ing play­ers re­ceived med­i­cal at­ten­tion while play­ing against X, while zero X-Women took a knee.

“Best game, it feels great. I couldn’t have done it with­out my team, they feel me, they keep me go­ing. The younger girls are in for an­other dy­nasty, so I’m glad I could end my ca­reer on that note,” Alphonso said. “We played it safe the first cou­ple of games. Against Laval (in the semi­fi­nal) we had to keep it tight, but to­day we were al­lowed to move the ball, I don’t think any­one was ex­pect­ing that.”

Hooker Michaela Ha­ley scored a try in the cor­ner on the last play of the game to give de­fend­ing cham­pion and top seeded Ot­tawa a 20-19 win over Laval in the bronze medal game.

GARY MAN­NING PHOTO

The St. Fran­cis Xavier X-Women cel­e­brate a solid win against the Guelph Gryphons at the close of the U Sports women’s rugby cham­pi­onship hosted in Wolfville Nov. 4.

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