The 2019 B.C. Women’s rugby title game was not one for the faint of heart.
The tightly-contested match featured two rugby powerhouses, as the North Shore's Capilano RFC took on Victoria’s Westshore Valkyries at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex, in a nail-biter dubbed “The Battle of the Shores.”
Capilano head coach An Hoang told the North Shore News that the match was incredibly intense, and one that both teams were ready for.
“It was the most exciting game of the day, and it was definitely the most hotly contested,” said Hoang. “I think our team knew how hard this was going to be, and I think our opponents coming into the game were also realizing that this was going to be a hard fought, intense, physical game.”
Westshore entered the fixture as the favourites, as the tournament’s top seed and two-time defending champions. They had also beat Capilano in two prior tilts earlier this season.
Capilano, however, came ready to play. Hoang says the game plan coming into the contest was to pressure Westshore early, in an effort to dictate the flow of the match. That pressure worked, as the Cap’s took a commanding 17-0 lead in the first 25 minutes.
That advantage wouldn't last long, as the experienced Westshore team rallied back to take the lead off a Paige Farries try halfway through the second half.
“I think in having to keep that feverish pace, they were able to come back a little bit and regain a bit of composure,” explained Hoang. “Heading into the last 20 minutes of our second half, they were able to close the score gap, and actually surpass us by two points.”
What followed was a war of attrition, as both teams battled fiercely to gain the upper hand. Neither side was willing to surrender any ground. As the clock ticked down, it looked like Westshore would secure the three-peat. But with five minutes to go, Capilano’s Macy Munson converted on a 30-metre penalty kick to put the North Shore side ahead by one.
“It’s a high pressure situation to be in,” said Hoang “I don’t know if she quite realized how far minute-wise in the game that we were at that point, but I definitely think just from looking at the players that I think they knew it was close.”
Typically, kicks like that are reserved for other members of the Cap’s squad, but Hoang says that having Munson take the penalty was a tactical decision that carried over from their semi-final match.
“We had started using her especially in the second half to kick for distance and for resets. Midway through the season, she just started to practice place kicking. It’s not like it’s something she hasn't done before, but it’s something that she’s just taken a little bit more time to just spend that extra 5-10 minutes post-training. In her mind, maybe this could be a difference sometime down the season.”
It certainly made the difference, but the Cap’s still had to hold the lead. The nerve-wracking final minutes saw Capilano lose two players to penalties, forcing the team to collectively dig deep and defend like their lives depended on it.
“This was one of the best defensive performances I’ve seen from our premier team all year,” said Hoang. “I think it says something to their character that they were able to do this when it really counted and when the pressure was very high.”
Capilano would win the game 20-19, securing their first Women's Premier League title in nearly a decade. As the final whistle blew to signify the end of the game, a triumphant wave of joy and relief was shared by the Capilano faithful. However, Hoang had to make sure the game was truly over before she surrendered to her emotions.
“I’ve been in championship situations before and when the final whistle goes, I always have to look around just to make sure it’s not just a whistle for advantage, it’s actually done,” explained Hoang. “Then there’s a moment, it’s almost like relief like ‘oh my God, we actually did it.’ It’s not that I ever doubted that the team could do it, the game was just so close, and the competitive nature of it was just so exciting to watch.”
Munson’s kick was certainly one of the fixtures turning points, but Hoang stressed that the team’s performance as a group was what led to the victory.
“It was one hundred per cent a team effort right across the board,” said Hoang. “It’s not so much as we have 15 individually talented people, they all have to work as one solid unit for us to be successful.”
Hoang credits the hard work put in by the team all season long, but she’s also quick to point out that rugby is a team game, and that teamwork extends beyond the pitch.
“It’s not just myself as the head coach, it’s all of our coaching and medical staff. It’s having our division two players who had played earlier in the day come and support our prems. I think it’s the energy of all of our players within our program and everyone who sat and supported us. I think that gave us a bit of an advantage, in terms of being able to keep our energy high.”