X-Women dominate in U Sports rugby title win
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.
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.