Gryphon rugby women tough it out for opening win

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – Things are going to be tougher for the Guelph Gryphons in OUA women’s rugby league play this season.

This year all of Guelph’s regular-season games will be tough and that showed Saturday in their season opener when the Gryphs needed a try on the final play of the match to edge the Gaels 38-31.

“It was definitely a team try. We all had to work for it,” said Zana Everett who scored the winning try. “Everyone’s heart was in it and we just needed that final push to get over the line. It was a great team try. Everyone was in it and everyone was going for it. I’m happy that we got it at the end.”

Everett reached the ball in for touch for the winning try after the Gryphs had threatened to score for about three minutes straight. And the hosts had had a try by Everett called back a couple minutes earlier.

“That second try was the ref’s call, obviously, but it looked like it was a pretty fair try,” Everett said. “We really needed to get that line-out and once we put that push on, they were backpedalling the whole time. It was a great way to finish.”

Actually, there was nothing wrong with the try. The problem was with a line-out that had been mistakenly taken by Guelph a couple of minutes before the called-back try. Play reverted back to that line-out and Queen’s got to take it, but the determined Gryphs soon regained possession.

“I don’t think they even cared about winning the game,” Gryphon coach Colette McAuley said. “I think they thought they just scored a beautiful try and got it called back for a referee’s error.”

While the winning try was successful, the Gryphs will rethink their decision not to kick for points, especially when they had the ball about 10 yards straight out from the goalposts on the final call right before the winning try.

“We were so close and I knew we’d be happier with an actual try than a kick,” Everett said. “It was like ‘We’ve got this. We’ve got the energy. We’ve got the horsepower. We just need to punch it in.’ I’m glad we made that decision.”

“I was yelling ‘points’ but maybe they thought we needed points. I’m not sure,” McAuley said. “Obviously we’ll go and review that when we review game film and decisions. I think they just felt they got a try taken away from them that they deserved and kudos to them, they pushed and pushed and persevered. It’s Game 1. I’m not going to be hard on them for decisions in Game 1 when they’ve got the confidence and the go-for-it sense to do that. Good on them.”

Everett’s winning try was her second of the game while Andi Lakatos, Julia Schell, Amara Hill and Guelph native Jasmine Ing scored the others. Schell kicked four conversions.

Nadia Popov and Sophie de Goede each had two tries for Queen’s while McKinley Hunt had one. De Goede had a conversion.

The game was a see-saw affair with each team taking a turn in the lead. Three times in the game Queen’s pulled even and the Gaels did hold a 17-12 lead with about 10 minutes to go in the first half. The Gryphs rallied to go up 31-17 seven minutes into the second half, but Queen’s fought back to tie it at 31-31 with 13 minutes to play.

The Gryphs lost 15 players from last year’s OUA championship-winning team and this year’s roster includes two players in their fifth and final year with the team, seventh in their fourth year and 17 in their first. That compares to last year’s roster when the Gryphs had seven players in their fifth year, 10 in their fourth and 14 in their first.

This year the league switched from a two-division format based on geography to this year’s two-division format based on performance. The five teams with winning records last season were placed in the Shiels Division while the five with losing records were put in the Russell Division.

“Part of my pregame speech every game this season is that it’s going to be an epic battle. I’m so proud of the girls,” McAuley said. “They brought it right from the whistle. It was good rugby for 80 minutes and that’s the kind of rugby they deserve to play. That’s the kind of rugby that the women at this level deserve to play each and every week.”

“It’s very different,” Everett said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s great for everyone’s rugby, university across Ontario. Last year it wasn’t fair. No one was improving. We weren’t improving and they weren’t improving. It was just discouraging girls from learning rugby and enjoying the game.

“This set-up really lets everyone enjoy it and everyone compete at the same level with everyone in their league. I think it’s great. Obviously, it’s going to be a hard, hard season for us, but I think we’ll learn a lot more and grow as a team.”

Last year the Gryphs knew before the season began that their regular-season schedule contained one game that had the potential to be a tough one – a crossover game with the Queen’s Gaels. Not this year.

“Every game is going to be a fight,” Everett said. “We’re rivals with Queen’s so that’s a great way to start it off, but every game is going to get harder and harder. We just have to keep working.”

One thing the switch to the new format does for the teams is reduce their regular seasons by a game to four games.

“What we’re going to try to do is get exhibitions,” McAuley said. “Because of the games against some of the weaker teams (in the old format) I was able to get the development of of my first- and second-years. That’s the games they would get in, but we don’t have that opportunity now because it’s probably going to be top 25, top 30 athletes that are getting the reps in each weekend.

“We’ve got an NRU Selects game our bye weekend on Sept. 16th and that’s when my first- and second-years will get their game time and their development. Mind you we had five rookies get in here this game and it was fantastic. All in all, first season we’re going to work it so we get a lot of development and time for all our athletes.”

Those rookies included Ross graduate Ing and Bishop Mac grad Christina Nadalin.

Next game for the Gryphs is set for Friday when they’re to play the York Lions at York at 7 p.m.