ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The St. F.X. X-Women rugby team turned on the jets in the second half of the AUS championship and took off from the Acadia Axewomen; turning a close game into a 38-7 result.
Two tries by Amelia Hatfield in the second half and one each by Carleigh Walters and Sam Lake, plus three Danielle Franada converts, changed a tight first-half battle into a runaway for the X-Women, who won their third straight AUS banner and have now beaten Acadia in eight of the last nine AUS title games, with the Axewomen’s lone win coming in 2015.
AUS championship most valuable player and Subway player of the game Meghan Buchanan, as well as veteran Olivia DeMerchant, scored first-half tries for St. F.X. to go along with one Franada convert.
Nicole Pahl scored Acadia’s lone try in the 28th minute of the first half and an Alysha Corrigan convert had the score 12-7 going into the break.
The X-Women, as well as Acadia, will now turn their attentions to the U Sports nationals, being hosted by the Axewomen and played in Wolfville, Nov. 1 to 4.
“I thought we came out fine, which we didn’t do two weeks ago at Acadia,” St. F.X. head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
“But, again, we let our foot of the gas the last 20 minutes of the first-half; but we came alive in the second half and showed the rugby we can play. We got the ball and we kept it.”
Veteran prop Joanna Alphonso echoed her coach’s thought, noting too that Acadia came out with determination.
“We came out on fire and so did Acadia … it was a battle really,” Alphonso, who, in the win, played her last game with the Blue and White on Oland Stadium turf, said.
“We ended up capitalizing on their mistakes and coming out with the win.”
Antigonish native Sarah McCarron, a second row player in her third season with the X-Women, said it was nice to see her team come out with their ‘A’ game.
“We’ve been struggling throughout the season bringing our potential to the game and all the pressure we had was from ourselves,” McCarron said. “So this game, this win, felt good.”
She talked about the difficulties in playing Acadia whom they could potentially face again in the nationals.
“They’re fast, they have a fast backline,” McCarron said.
“X rugby, since I’ve known it, has been known for its forwards; driving the ball, short and long passes and driving it away. But Acadia, they get the ball and, as fast as they can, they run it. It’s an opposite pace to us so that is what we have to adjust to.”
Coach Cavanaugh noted the team did a good job of that in the AUS title game and praised his team’s defence.
“We took a lot of penalties and put some pressure on ourselves, but I was very happy with our defense,” he said.
“It’s something we worked on the last two weeks. It sort of let us down in our trip to Ottawa and against Acadia a couple of weeks ago, so I thought, today, we really tackled well. They have a very speedy backfield, they have some really good players, but I thought we shut them down; I was happy with our defense.”
As for what, if anything, was said during halftime to spark the team, Cavanaugh said it was just a matter of the X-Women’s leadership coming through.
“We have some good leaders in the locker room, they said all the right things and we just knew we had to play to our potential and up the ante a little bit,” he said.
“We have players like Olivia [DeMerchant] and Jo [Alphonso], they’re just two born leaders. They set the pace for us the second half and the rest of the team followed.”
As for success in the nationals, Cavanaugh said playing a full 80 minutes will be key.
“Because we’re going to be playing some really good teams,” he said of the necessity of being at the top of their game from the opening kick-off to the final whistle.
“And ball control; we are a forward dominant team so we have to get rolling with our forwards and, if we do, I think there isn’t a pack in the country who can match us. If we can get going with that, our set pieces are very strong, our scrums and line-outs, I think that we’ll be the key for us too.”
McCarron noted that carrying the momentum of the big win the team just enjoyed, would be important.
“We need to move forward off of today’s game,” she said.
“Definitely minimize our mistake, being discipline and playing what is in front of us,” Alphonso said, emphasizing the need to focus for a full 80 minutes, while admitting it will be a “bittersweet” time for her and the other seniors, as they mentally balance the excitement of the nationals while in their last games in a X-Women uniform.
“It’s bittersweet knowing we can go in and potentially come out with a medal,” she said, then pausing.
“This was my last game on this turf as an X-Woman … it was great to come out with the win.”