Jaxon Baker leaves an Esquimalt tackler in her dust during the teams’ match at the Island girls rugby sevens championship hosted by Brentwood last week. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Growth of rugby sevens shows at Island championship

Shawnigan and Cowichan advance to provincials this weekend

The explosive growth of rugby sevens on Vancouver Island was visible last week as Brentwood College School played host to the Island girls sevens championship.

“The quality of sevens is great across the Island,” Brentwood coach Marius Felix gushed. “From the top teams down to 11 and 12, every school makes an effort to play sevens, as opposed to having XV players who play sevens. It’s a huge improvement from even four or five years ago.”

The surge in sevens has enabled some schools to participate in the sport when XV might have been impossible. Belmont, who beat Shawnigan Lake School in Saturday’s Island final, has been unable to sustain an XV side, and St. Michaels University School is also without a girls XV team. Esquimalt, which had two teams at the Island sevens, does have a developing XV side, and hopes to enter league play next year. Another school without an XV side, Queen Margaret’s School, was scheduled to play in the Island sevens, but had to withdraw due to injuries, opening up the spot for Esquimalt’s B team.

The top four teams from the Island tournament — Belmont, Shawnigan, Cowichan Secondary and Esquimalt’s A team — earned berths in the provincial tournament, which Brentwood will also host this Friday and Saturday. Brentwood, who tied for 11th place at Islands, missed the cut for provincials, but served notice that they will contend in the near future.

“We have a very young team, an emerging team,” Felix said. “Sevens is based on speed and athleticism, and most of our top players are in Grade 10. In terms of effort and getting better, we were delighted with our group.”

Brentwood will have an entry in the eight-team junior tournament that will parallel the provincial championships, “essentially the same team” that played at Islands, according to Felix.

“Were pretty excited about that,” the coach said. “It’s a better fit for us this year. Next year the same group of kids will be more competitive. and the year after, much more competitive.”

The Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds moved up one placing from their finish at the Island tournament a year ago, beating Esquimalt 29-7 in the third-place game. The T-Birds went 3-0 in pool play on Friday afternoon, beating Esquimalt B, Edward Milne and Esquimalt A in a nail-biter. They thumped SMUS 30-0 in the quarter-finals on Saturday morning to achieve their first goal of qualifying for the provincial tournament.

Cowichan’s only loss of the Island tournament came in the semis against the eventual champions from Belmont as junior player Victoria Van Niekerk scored the T-Birds’ lone try.

Belmont beat Shawnigan 21-7 in the final, which Felix called “a crackerjack of a game. Shawnigan was missing one of their stronger players, which helped create an opportunity for Belmont, which has taken advantage of its proximity to Rugby Canada’s training centre in Langford to create a sevens academy.

“They have some very athletic kids, a ton of team speed,” Felix said.

The provincial championships and the junior tournament will both be played at Brentwood this Friday and Saturday. Games run from 9 a.m. to 5:30 on Friday and begin again at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Some of Canada’s top up-and-coming athletes will be in action.

“I can say with confidence that there will be future Olympians on the field at Brentwood,” Felix said.

The gold- and bronze-medal matches and the junior final will be played at Westhills Stadium in Langford as part of the HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens tournament.

“It’s such a great opportunity for them,” Felix said. “There’s a great underpinning of support that Rugby Canada and BC Rugby have created for young women.”

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