It’s always special for the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club (ARFC) women’s sevens team to win their annual home tournament, but it was particularly sweet this year considering the nature of the competition.
The Mexican national women’s sevens squad participated in the 2014 edition of the event, pit-stopping at Exhibition Park on Saturday at the tail end of a 10-day Canadian tour.
They faced off against the hosts in the final and provided stiff competition – after the ARFC opened up a double-digit advantage in the first half, Mexico rallied to take the lead. But Abby ultimately prevailed 24-21 on Mackenzie Fowler’s try on the last play of the game.
“We were pretty nervous coming into the final,” said the ARFC’s Yuka Kubota, noting that her team had beaten Mexico in the preliminary rounds, but felt that the international squad’s superior fitness and depth would give them an advantage at the end of a long day of rugby.
“But we’ve got an awesome group of girls. We’ve all played together for a while, and we trust each other.”
The ARFC women got two tries apiece from Fowler and Lauren Arthur in the final.
The Mexican side, though settling for second in Abbotsford, felt that their Canadian sojourn was invaluable as they strive to develop their fledgling rugby sevens program.
“We wanted to learn a little bit of Canadian rugby,” explained head coach Nicolas Utrilla, whose squad spent eight days in Regina, Sask. before flying in for the ARFC event. “Canadian women’s (rugby) is the toughest.”
Indeed, Canada is a powerhouse in women’s rugby sevens, which will be an Olympic sport for the first time at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Team Canada finished second at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia, and were third in the 2013-14 IRB Sevens World Series standings. Mexico, meanwhile, has yet to appear in a Rugby World Cup Sevens, and they didn’t participate in the most recent IRB World Series.
“We’re growing a lot, and now we are trying to grow with a good construction,” Utrilla said. “If you don’t have a line to follow, it’s hard.
“For us, (the trip to Canada) was a big step forward. When we arrived, we already played sevens with some skill but we weren’t able to unite as a group. But after just 10 days, we are. We’re leaving here as a group. For us, it’s a big, big success.”
The ARFC also sent a team to the final in the elite men’s division, but the Youngbucks from Vancouver prevailed by a 10-8 score.
“We played well,” said Dave Prins, a member of the Abby squad. “But we had a big semifinal against our classic rivals from Burnaby, and we came out a bit flat in the final. They’re a good team.”
The Ravens/Youngbucks were the winners in the social men’s division, beating Burnaby 31-19.
Noah Jensen and the ARFC men’s sevens squad fell to the Youngbucks in the finals of their home tournament.