Cowichan T-Birds rugby players pose for the obligatory photo in front of the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign during their trip earlier this month. (Submitted)

Cowichan T-Birds rugby players pose for the obligatory photo in front of the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign during their trip earlier this month. (Submitted)

Cowichan Thunderbirds gamble on Las Vegas

Girls rugby program faces top competition at sevens tournament

Two rugby sevens teams from Cowichan Secondary School travelled to Nevada earlier this month for the Las Vegas Invitational and encountered some top-level opposition.

Both Thunderbirds teams entered the High School Open Division at the tournament, which was held in conjunction with the HSBC International Sevens Series stop in Las Vegas. They expected to face high school and U18 club teams, but it turned out that the 24-team field included several state, provincial and academy teams from across North America. That only served to help the T-Birds define their goals for the event.

“Winning the division was not a goal prior to travelling to the tournament,” Cowichan head coach Brad Skene said. “But playing well and responding positively to adversity always is a goal for our program. The two days that we played on the firm turf of Heritage Park in Vegas, we were able to find both.

“I was very impressed that besides one seven-minute half, both teams played with heart, passion and their minds for most of the 11 games that the squad played. A large percentage of the squad played some of the best rugby that they have ever played. If players are willing to work and learn, playing against opposition that is more experienced and athletically gifted creates a huge learning curve. While we finished in the middle of the 24 teams, almost every player returned to Canada more skilled and more capable.”

Cowichan Maroon went 1-2 in pool play, beating the Alaska Rugby Club 29-5 and losing 29-5 to BC Youth Elite and 15-10 to the Tennessee All-Stars. In the bowl playoff, Maroon won 33-5 over the Lumberjanes from northern Saskatchewan, beat the Minnesota Tundra 15-12, and lost 15-0 to Atlantis in the bowl final.

Cowichan Black also went 1-2, starting with a 22-10 win over the Lumberjanes, followed by a 27-5 loss to View Park from southern California and a 29-0 loss to Utah Academy. In the plate playoff, Black lost 26-5 to Harlequin Club from Sacramento, then beat the Tennessee All-Stars 17-15.

Skene thanked the administration and office staff at Cowichan Secondary for helping make the trip a reality. When one of the chaperones and coaches was unable to travel, principal Charlie Coleman stepped up, with his vice-principals agreeing to fill in at the school.

“Mr. Coleman was an outstanding tourist and became a valuable part of the team staff,” Skene said. “School trips take a great deal of paperwork and financial accounting. The team received fantastic support from our school’s office staff.”