The success of the women’s program, both in terms of participation numbers and results, is one of the most exciting storylines to emerge out of the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club (ARFC) this fall.
The senior women’s side is utterly crushing the competition in the Lower Mainland Tier 2 league – they’re 5-0, having out-scored their opposition by a 330-28 margin.
Abbotsford has been similarly dominant at the U18 level – head coach Jen Ross had so many girls interested in playing, she split her 41-player roster into two squads. Abby 1 (3-0-1, with a 104-30 scoring differential) and Abby 2 (2-0-1, 117-15 scoring differential) are both undefeated, with the lone tie on each team’s record coming during a head-to-head match-up on Oct. 27 that ended in a 15-15 draw.
“There’s a lot of unity between the U18s and senior women,” enthused Ross, noting that all three teams train on the same night and that their practices often overlap. “It’s building a really amazing program within the club for women’s rugby.
“We have so many new women to the club this year, and that’s special, because everyone always talks about how women’s rugby is growing, but it seems to be on a decline across the province.”
The senior women should probably be playing Tier 1, but head coach Dave Chambers had no way of knowing that during his summer preparations. The side had been decimated by a series of key retirements, and he wasn’t convinced he’d be able to field a full roster. Thus, the decision was made to play in the lower league during the fall season just to be safe.
“We only had about 13 women who were in, no ifs, ands or buts,” Chambers noted. “But when we started training in September, more ladies came out – many who had never played before. And they’re doing really, really well. As a result, we’ve got quite a bit of skill.”
The senior women will be moving up in the first division when the seasons reset in the spring, and Chambers said the team is “always looking” for athletes who are interested in playing, whether or not they’ve played rugby before.
At the younger age group, Ross is the driving force. She’s coaching year-round these days, be it with the ARFC, the Fraser Valley regional program, the B.C. U16 provincial team, or the senior girls squad at Robert Bateman Secondary. It’s no coincidence that local female rugby participation numbers are as high as they are, and that Abbotsford girls often form the core of championship youth sides at the regional and national level.
“These girls just want to keep getting better, and they’re not slowing down – I can’t keep up,” Ross said with a chuckle.
Chambers was less modest when describing the contributions of Ross, who was named the national female coach of the year by Rugby Canada in May.
“She’s been the backbone of the women’s club for quite a few years, and she’s just fantastic,” he said. “She’s one of the quality people who you see in every sport who just transcend the sport, and it’s awesome to work with her.”