Olympic medallist joins Cowichan rugby ranks

Rugby fans in the Cowichan Valley will finally get a chance to see an Olympic medallist take the field for the local club.

Rugby fans in the Cowichan Valley will finally get a chance to see an Olympic medallist take the field for the local club.

Kelly Russell, who won a bronze medal in rugby sevens with the Canadian women’s team in Rio de Janeiro last summer, will make her home-field debut for Cowichan’s Premier women’s side this Saturday alongside her sister, Laura, the captain of the national women’s XV side, and another national team player, Tyson Beukeboom.

Kelly, who calls Ontario home, admits that playing with her sister was one reason for signing on with Cowichan, but not the only reason.

“Of course Laura playing for the club already was a factor in my decision to join the club,” she said. “However what also drew me to the club was the atmosphere and club culture. It is a very welcoming and supportive club, and the sense of community is strong within it. The ladies and club members have really been very welcoming, it’s a great club to be involved with.”

Kelly was Canada’s XV player of the year in 2013; has played in two Rugby World Cups, winning silver in 2014, when she was a tournament all-star, and two Rugby World Cup Sevens, winning silver in 2013; and was the captain of the national XV side before handing the reins to Laura. But helping Canada to bronze in the first-ever Olympic rugby sevens tournament still stands out among her accomplishments.

“The Olympic bronze medal has definitely been a highlight in my career,” she said. “It has helped increase the profile of women’s rugby in Canada and has inspired a new generation of athletes to get involved in the sport of rugby.”

Some of the younger players who are hoping to follow in Russell’s footsteps got the chance to work with her last Sunday at a kicking clinic she put on for the Cowichan U14, U16 and U18 players and visiting players from Comox. The experience was a great one for both Russell and the young athletes.

“It was great to get a chance to meet some of the up-and-coming female athletes in the club,” she said. “These ladies are the future of the club and it was nice to see the enthusiasm to learn and improve. I just took them through a few kicking techniques. We mostly focused on the drop kick which is a challenging one to learn but a fun kick to know how to do.”

Next up for the Russell sisters and Beukeboom on the international stage is the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland in August 2017. The team will begin preparations this November with a trip to Europe where they will take on Ireland, England and New Zealand.

Three weeks after their last exhibition match, Cowichan’s women’s team took the field last weekend against Westshore for their first league game, and lost 54-5 in a hard-hitting battle. Cowichan spent 15 minutes pressing in the Westshore end, but Westshore’s speed on the outside allowed them to capitalize on the Cowichan errors to score tries. Kelly Russell and Jenna Bugden were named players of the game.

“It wasn’t the result we were hoping for, but there were some great things that happened,” veteran Sherry Spence said. “It’s a long year, and we will move forward onto another strong powerful team, Capilano.”

Cowichan will play host to Capilano at 11:30 a.m. this Saturday.