It took a little time for the pattern to emerge, but once the Castaway Wanderers got their running game going, they were virtually an unstoppable force.
The fledgling Rugby B.C. premier women’s division side outgunned the defending provincial champion Westshore Valkyries, overcoming the latter’s power game up front with superior backfield play en route to a 31-15 victory.
“We knew we weren’t going to go through (Westshore),” said CW coach Jess Dovanne, a former Velox and national team player herself who knows well the kind of punishing style the Valkyries play in the middle of the field. “We knew we had to make it a game of fitness, because that is our strength. We tried to kick that ball anytime we were in our own end, play to space and that was absolutely to our victory today.”
Westshore opened scoring with a typical maul try by flanker Shannon Fitzpatrick, but that was the only lead the regular season champions would enjoy all day. It was 10-5 Castaway Wanderers by the half and CW continued to force their opponent into a chase game in the second half, while absorbing some big hits.
In particular, CW fullback Julianne Zussman, another former Velox player and current longtime national team member, played like she was shot out of a gun, bolting from the backfield and catching Westshore players flatfooted at times. She raced in for three tries to lead the attack, including a couple from well out that she managed to place underneath the posts.
Valkyries’ outside centre Lisa Gauthier noted their opponent had a point to make on the field.
“I think both teams came out very hard, but CW definitely came out wanting to prove something and I think we just fell a little short of coming up with them,” she said. “Defensively we might have gave them too much room, too much time to make decisions. In previous games we had shot up much faster; we tried to make that adjustment in the second half.”
While Castaways continued to outpace Westshore and wear them down after the break, the latter still managed to find success with their powerful pack, leading to a pair of tries by loosehead prop Rosie Lang.
Dovanne acknowledged that the two teams play very different styles, with Westshore playing a “hard, old-school, intense” game as opposed to the wide-open style preferred by Castaways.
When the decision was made to split up the powerhouse Velox team and spread around their national level players to help develop other programs – the league allows a limit of four capped players per team on the field at once – a handful of players moved over to help CW get established. As it turns out, many of those players were the same backs who kept the Westshore forwards running all day.
Having lost twice this season to the Valkyries, Dovanne said, “I think the intimidation factor got the better of us possibly the first two games. We’re a new team and Westshore has always been the strongest team in B.C. I think it was our nerves a lot of the time … This time I think we went out with the confidence we deserved.”
Looking toward next season, the battle for premier women’s rugby supremacy could be even more interesting.
“It’s very exciting to have two very different teams and the level of rugby has gone up hugely as a result.” Dovanne said. “There’s no easy wins in this league right now. Our top six are all very competitive.”
Gauthier agreed the level of competition is getting better and she expects it to continue next season.
“With the World Cup coming up, I think there’s going to be a lot more players from the Ontario-Quebec region that are going to want to come train more in either Victoria or Vancouver,” she said.
Third division title game goes rather as expected
The competitive difference between third division rugby on the mainland and the Island became evident as Saturday’s provincial title game wore on.
The Westshore Valhallians kept the defending champion Kelowna Crows to within a couple of scores, 19-10 at the half, but the visitors wore down the locals in all phases of the game to win going away, 40-22.
Westshore managed to end the game on a high note when flanker Ryan Waldriff fought through a pair of attempted tackles to go over the try line for one last score, but Kelowna was definitely the stronger team, admitted Valhallians fullback and head coach Aaron Frisby.
“We had the same challenge last year,” he said of trying to keep pace with a club that practises twice a week and plays virtually all year round against highly competitive teams.
“We try and get the guys together on a Wednesday night, but we’re mostly fathers and guys who are working. We prepared better than we did last year, but it’s just an uphill battle. That’s a first div. team and we’re a third div. team in the end,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of the guys and it was great to see some of the old guys give it one last push at the end.”
Also scoring for the Valhallians on the day were Dan White and Conrad Newell, while Konrad Nikkel booted two converts and a field goal to round out the scoring.
Frisby said having two teams reach provincial finals was a great accomplishment for the Westshore club in its first season in Colwood.