A 34-12 win over Kamloops at Vancouver’s Brockton Oval last Saturday secured the provincial women’s First Division championship for the Cowichan Rugby Football Club.
Two years removed from their last appearance in the final – a victory over Nanaimo – Cowichan wrapped up a long season by winning the biggest game of the year.
"After such a long season, it’s so nice to cap it off with a big win," Cowichan captain Sherry Spence said. "We had so many games where we didn’t have enough players, but the players who were out gave it everything they had.
"There were players who helped us make it to the B.C. finals that were injured or unavailable to play, but they still deserve the recognition of being a part of the team. Even though it is just one big game, there are months of games that all made a difference. I couldn’t be more proud of all the people who wear the green and black."
Kamloops was the only team to beat Cowichan in league play, and Cowichan was eager for the rematch, knowing to expect another hard game.
"Kamloops had a very good team, and we knew not to take them lightly," Spence said. "When we played them they had some speedy players and were strong in the scrums, and we knew they were missing a few players. But after two weeks of prep with our full team, tweaking a couple things to help us defend again the strong Kamloops team, we felt prepared to play in the big game."
Kamloops booted the ball right to the Cowichan forwards on the opening kickoff, and with a clean catch, the battle began. The game went back and forth for the first 30 minutes, Kamloops getting on the board first with a converted try. Carolyn Gudmundseth responded with one of her trademark long runs to score, and Michelle Moore kicked the convert to knot things at 7-7. Kamloops added another try when their fullback broke through the line, but Cowichan was able to shut them down after that. Late in the half, Moore finished a big run of her own off with a try that she converted herself, and Cowichan had their first lead.
Veteran Jamaina McLeod was lost to an injury, but Stacey (Badger) Collison stepped in to take her place at fly-half, while flanker Laura Russell moved to the centres. Russell scored with three minutes left before halftime, and Gudmundseth added her second try 30 seconds before the whistle for a 24-12 halftime lead.
Their nerves finally calmed, the Cowichan players nonetheless knew they had to keep up the effort that led to their first-half success. Spence set the tone for the second half when, instead of catching scrum-half Tanja Ness’s high opening kick, she let a Kamloops player receive it, then delivered a crushing blow at the 10-metre line. Russell collected the ball, but lost it to Kamloops in a ruck. As Kamloops tried to kick the ball away, they knocked it on and Laura Nutt pounced on it to score.
Closing out the scoring was Brandi Van Eeuwen, who spent most of the game holding the scrum together.
"Brandi is such a calm, levelheaded player, very strong in the front row," Spence said. "Cowichan never lost any balls in the scrum, as a full eight and with Lauren Nutt hooking we were able to steal at least five balls, then Hannah Lauridsen coming in as a replacement and it was as strong as ever."
Kamloops found it all but impossible to get past centres Russell and Bristine Gibbons. The one time they came close to breaking through, Gudmundseth tackled the player and pulled her backwards to stop her from diving over the line.
The B.C. Rugby Union chose Gudmundseth as Player of the Game for her running and tackling, but the Cowichan players would have picked an unsung hero for the honour.
"Annie Zurrer had a stormer of a game," Spence said. "She was all over the pitch with her tackles and numerous amounts of runs, unfortunately unable to cross the line. In our minds Player of the Game for sure."