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Bonneville excels on pitch with boys
It was never Tanika Bonneville’s plan to play rugby with the boys. Really, she just wanted to go to Bermuda.
But upon hearing of the rugby tour – and hearing back from organizer Rick Bourne that it was only boys teams heading south – she asked if she could join the U15 team, anyway.
Then, a few emails and confirmations later, and the 14-year-old Elgin Park Secondary student was packing a bag for the Caribbean where she was joined by other U13, U14 and U15 boys from B.C. and Newfoundland.
While in Bermuda, the B.C. squads opened with a series of seven-a-side games, and then followed that a day later with a fun, less formal day of beach rugby.
The final two days were spent playing 15-a-side games against a pair of Bermuda rugby academies.
And though it was not a defacto national team – considering the players were culled from just two provinces – the players still wore the Maple Leaf on their uniforms for a weeklong Canadian youth rugby tour in Bermuda from March 13-20.
Aside from Bonneville, the touring group of 85 players also included her younger brother, Royce, who suited up for the U13 team, and two Bayside Rugby members, Quinton Brown and Thomas Blackburn.
But it was Bonneville, as the only girl in a rough-and-tumble sport, who drew much of the attention, especially from the opposition Bermudans, many of whom were still relatively new to the sport.
But Bonneville – a multi-sport athlete who only took up rugby last year – was undeterred by the attention and, in fact, handled herself quite well on the pitch against competition that was bigger, stronger and often a few years older than her.
Bonneville plays prop, which means she was right in middle of every scrum.
“It was great. It was just a really fantastic learning experience,” said Bonneville. “And getting to wear a Canada jersey, that was really cool.”
Though she admits to some early jitters, her confidence in the boys’ game was buoyed when, in one game, she lined up against an opposing player who tipped the scales at more than 350 pounds.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, definitely. The hardest game of my life. And I think he was kind of nervous for me, too,” she laughed.
“But I felt comfortable with it. It’s more about skill than size… everyone who was there – coaches, parents, my teammates – they had faith in me and knew I’d be OK.”
She did more than just OK, in fact.
Andy Blackburn – father of Thomas Blackburn – was on the trip, and was continually amazed at how well Bonneville stacked up on the pitch.
“She’s a very talented player, and it really was an achievement for a girl that age, who is still fairly new to the sport, to go up against those 300-pounders,” he said.
“And she more than just held her own – she was a standout. She blew people away.”
Bonneville – who was awarded a “sports-woman-ship” award at the conclusion of the tour – has been impressing people long before Bermuda, however.
Just 14, she already plays at a U18 level in club rugby, and is on Elgin Park’s senior girls rugby team, coached by longtime EPS coach Johan Mynhardt.
In fact, it was Mynhardt, who also teaches metal shop at the South Surrey school, who first prodded Bonneville to give rugby a try.
Ironically, the invite came moments after she’d upstaged a room full of boys.
“I was in Grade 8, in metal shop, and there was a big lever that we had to pull in class,” she explained.
“None of the boys could do it, and (Mynhardt) asked me to try, so I did, and I pulled it down.
“Right then, he said, ‘you’re going to play rugby.’”
Bonneville initially rebuked the rugby invite because she was too tied up playing basketball and volleyball, but once her schedule cleared up in the spring, she decided to give the sport a try.
She loved it right away, and in less than a year she was playing with the seniors.
It was partly that experience that kept her nerves calm when facing older boys on the pitch in Bermuda.
“I’m used to playing against bigger, older players,” she explained. “I’ve been out of my element for awhile now. I’m used to it.”