London Leads Rugby Revolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Traditionally, when we spoke of rugby, images of clashing burly men dominated discussions. But thanks to a female rugby revolution, including a big push here in London, you can toss that stereotype right out of the scrum.

In fact, female rugby is now one of the fastest growing sports in Canada.

Rugby Ontario has just handed London St. George’s Rugby Football Club two year-end awards, including Junior Club Program of the Year (Female). The club has seen an immense amount of growth in their junior women’s program, which has expanded from one Under-18 team in 2010 to an Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18 program in 2017, with a total of 64 registrants.

In minor rugby this year, London St. George’s fielded a girls-only group, which is “a huge accomplishment at a level where most rugby is played in a mixed environment,” according to Rugby Ontario. “The culture of the women’s program has allowed the club to grow, which includes initiatives such as the Senior Women’s players acting as guest coaches, Junior Women’s players helping out in the minor program and coaches involving themselves in high school rugby across the London area.”

One of those senior players if Candace Scholten, who Rugby Ontario named its Senior Club Player of the Year (Female). Scholten joined the squad after a four-year hiatus from rugby, but according to Rugby Ontario, she “proved to be a natural athlete, an excellent communicator and a team player in all respects. Candace exhibited a natural affinity to all aspects of rugby – both defensively and ball in hand.”

Scholten chalked up 127 points in the Niagara Rugby Union (NRU) regular season from her position at full back and was routinely selected as woman of the match by the opposing team. Said Rugby Ontario, “With her humility and team focus, Candace would credit her achievements to those around her before taking recognition.”

Although London St. George’s Past President Margaret Dow would also credit the entire club before herself, the Londoner played a big part in the growth of rugby for females during her two-term stint. Dow, an 18-year rugby veteran, was one of only a handful of female rugby club presidents in Canada. Jay Howard was named club president this past spring.

Margaret Dow. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioSports.com.

With about 250 active players from under-8 Mini to Old Boys leagues, London St. George’s is experiencing unprecedented growth. Competing in the NRU, the men fielded three teams instead of two, and the women grew from one to two competitive teams in 2017. Traditionally, rugby players have first entered the game during high school, but the Mini program launched in 2015 is growing the youth game in London like never before.

“The Mini program has just exploded. We started with a handful of kids, and had more than 100 (in 2016),” Dow said.

Rugby Ontario includes about 10,200 players and a total member base of 11,000 (including coaches, officials and volunteers) at 63 member clubs, while Rugby Canada counts 125 clubs from coast to coast. And according to Dow, they’re all part of a family.

“The rugby community is really that – a community. It’s not the type of sport where you just show up to play, and then not talk to anybody for the rest of the week. We’re there for each other. It’s a great support system, and a really cool social community, too,” Dow said.

With Canada winning bronze in women’s rugby sevens at the Rio Olympic Games, the sport got a big boost. Locally, when mental performance consultant Natascha Wesch came to London and grabbed the Western University women’s rugby head coach reigns in 1994, the women’s game has never looked back. Wesch, a former Team Canada player who later led Canada’s National Senior Women’s team to the first-ever Women’s Rugby 7s World Cup in Dubai, was instrumental in the development of junior women’s rugby in Ontario and Canada.

Ontario University Athletics (OUA) recently named Mustangs’ rugby player Arielle Dubissette-Borrice the winner of the Shiels Division Community Service Award. For the past two years, Dubissette-Borrice has been working with the Toronto Inner-City Rugby Foundation, while also working with Rugby Alliance during the summer and a coach and intern.

Next spring, Dubissette-Borrice will head to Nicaragua with the Dog River Howlers to reach and coach youth in a developing rugby nation. Rounding out her impressive involvement in the community and with the sport, Dubissette-Borrice has also served as guest coach at a high school’s rugby day and coached the Women’s 7s team attending the Magnificent Sevens last year.

There’s a great line in the 1980s movie, Oxford Blues (which, incidentally, inspired former Mustangs rower and decorated Olympian Marnie McBean to take up her sport), which, during a student debate, likens American football to “rugby with shoulder pads and helmets.”

It doesn’t take a good beating on the pitch to know that rugby as we’ve known it has changed its stripes. And there’s no debating the fact, you don’t have to look any further than London to realize the game will continue grow, thanks to inclusivity.

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Jeffrey Reed is London’s senior sportswriter, a veteran sports broadcaster, a two-time author and winner of seven national and international writing awards. He is also editor of LondonOntarioGolf.com. Contact him jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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