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Success in Canada, but Closer Games Needed

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Success in Canada, but Closer Games Needed

The big test this summer for a huge group of young women rugby players came with trips to Canada.
 
The Midwest U23 Thunderbirds took a U23 and U20 team to Mosquito Heaven, otherwise known as Brandon, Manitoba. There the T-Birds U20s played four shortened games over two days. They beat Saskatchewan U18s 41-0 and Manitoba U18s 67-0 on Saturday, July 19, and then followed that up with a 65-0 defeat of Manitoba on the Sunday, and a 22-15 defeat of a bolstered Saskatchewan team.
 
It was an impressive performance by the Thunderbirds, but perhaps not the tough competition they had been hoping for.
 
The Midwest U23s did a little better when it came to competition levels, as they played the Prairies National Women’s League team, winning 43-24 on Saturday and 51-29 on Sunday. Both teams showcased superior ball-handling and aggressive running. The U20s were a bit bigger than their opponents, and the score lines reflect that. The U23s were giving away something in physicality against a top women’s side, but more than made up for it in speed, fitness, and endeavor.
 
Meanwhile, in Ontario, the Women’s Collegiate All Americans played an Ontario Storm, and enjoyed an excellent, hard-nosed game that went down to the wire. (See full report here). The All Americans won on a very late try 24-17.
 
That was good news for everyone, as the All Americans followed that up on Sunday with a game against the Ontario Junior Storm, which was mostly U20s. The expectation must have been that Ontario, being one of the strong U20 select sides in Canada, would be a tough competitor for a Women’s All American team that did not feature many players from Penn State or Stanford, and thus, for the pessimistic, the team might have looked a little weak.
 
Well they proved everyone wrong, winning 63-7. A group of very different players from all over the country (Sunday’s playing squad featured players from 15 different states) came together in a matter of days to outplay a younger team, true, but one that has been working together for a while.
 
What did that show us? It showed how crucial team-building is for a touring side. It showed how developing team trust creates scoring opportunities. It’s a credit to the coaching staffs of both of these teams that they both harnessed and unleashed their talent this way.
 
But, it also spelled out how difficult it is to formulate a tour. Ideally for these types of trips, you want a very close game. You want tour team to play a style of play they aren’t familiar with. Maybe you want to come out with a 2-1 record, with all three games decided by seven points or fewer.
 
That’s the ideal, but it’s hard to accomplish, because of the lack of information, and perhaps trust, between nations - even nations next to each other. The Canadian age-grade teams in girls rugby are very good, but their success can breed a mild arrogance that blinds them to the fact that they still have a ways to go.
 
Did they really think that the Ontario U20s would beat an all-star team of American college players? That fixture should not have been played. The All Americans would have been better served paying Ontario again, or trying to get Equipe Quebec to come in, instead.
 
It’s a tough proposition, setting up these games, but I hope they continue. Canada’s summer NWL is a wonderful league, and those teams are perfectly-suited to have warmup matches against college teams from the USA. There is no reason that idea can’t be expanded.
 
At the U20 level, there are competitive opportunities, as well, but U20 Americans v U18 Canadians is a mismatch. College Americans against U20 Canadians is a mismatch. Hopefully this year’s results will give representatives from both sides of the border enough data to find closer matchups next time.
 
All praise to the players on all eight teams who pitched up and played hard. But at this level, blowouts aren’t helping anybody.