VANCOUVER - A revamped BC Rugby High School Girls Provincial Sevens championship gets underway on Friday morning at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium. A total of 16 teams from across the province will scrum down for the two day tournament set to feature 45 games of sevens rugby.
With sevens set to debut at the 2016 Olympics, age grade tournaments like these are crucial steps in developing the game according to Canadian international Julia Sugawara. A winner of the 2011 Colette McAuley Award which recognizes a female rugby player who gives back to the sport in the true spirit of the game, Sugawara has seen first hand how sevens rugby is creating a buzz at the high school level.
This past February Sugawara coached the BC Banshees to a second place finish at the 2012 Las Vegas Invitational in the girls youth division. The players were an independent, self-funded group of high school athletes from British Columbia, several with representative experience in the XVs code. Although the squad had little experience in sevens rugby, Sugawara was impressed with how quickly the players adjusted and picked up the game during the two day tournament.
Sugawara has had her share of success playing sevens, having won back-to-back BC Sevens Series provincial titles with Burnaby Lake Rugby Club. We caught up with Sugawara to get her thoughts on how sevens rugby is generating a buzz at the high school level in British Columbia…
Where do you see 7s rugby going in BC and can you speak to its potential?
JS: Now that 7s is becoming an Olympic sport, players will be looking for opportunities to specifically develop their 7s skills. BC has already become a base of the national team players and can easily become a place for those with potential to one day join them. With the growth of the BC Sevens Series in the summer season, especially with the inclusion of junior brackets to many of those tournaments, most clubs are running 7s practices all summer. Nowhere else in the country is this happening to this level. As clubs develop better 7s coaches and players, BC will be an attractive option for not only the casual 7s player but also the high-level one.
Can you speak to how developing this age group (grades 8-12) is important for the growth of 7s rugby in Canada?
JS: This age group is the future of our sport. The earlier we can get players learning to love and play the game, the more talented our future will be. In the past, rugby has lost a lot of athletic kids to other sports, but with the draw of an Olympic medal potential we can give those athletes an attractive option to consider.
How can we grow 7s rugby and make it better and more accessible for this age group of young women?
JS: Anything that will give the girls more opportunities to watch, analyze, train, and play the sport alongside good coaches will be beneficial to the growth and development of 7s with this age group. It has been great to see the development and success of the BC Elite Youth Sevens program. It would be incredible if there were a similar program sponsored and set up for their female counterparts.
Can you talk a bit about your experience with the BC Banshees? Can you talk about the level of rugby you saw in Vegas?
JS: Going into the Las Vegas 7s our expectations were high of the opposition as they consisted of high school teams with very successful 15s programs. However, their success in 15s did not necessarily translate well to the wide open 7s game. We were fortunate to have two challenging games against a high school from Saskatchewan though, which exposed some of our inexperience and challenged our skills.
In Vegas you took down a team with XVs experience who were very new to the 7s game. Can you speak to their improvement throughout the tournament and how quickly they picked up 7s?
JS: Despite the limited preparation time the girls had, they picked up quite a bit of the game of 7s. They were asking intelligent questions, trying out different moves/positions, and slowly making adjustments from the 15s game. Offensively, they quickly adjusted to the extra space and the one-on-one battles. Defensively, 7s is unforgiving in exposing individual and team weaknesses. The girls made great strides in learning the different styles of defence and trying to implement them in the games.
Can you tell us a bit about the Banshees team and name one or two players who really stood out for you? What did they bring to your team?
JS: I was fortunate to work with a lot of talented rugby players on the Banshees - some with the outright speed to get around the opposition, some with the skill to get the ball into those girls' hands, and some with the power to create turnovers from the rucks and tackles so they could have the ball to begin with. Each of the girls contributed in their own way to make the team successful.
The BC Rugby High School Girls Provincial Sevens kicks off on Friday, April 13th at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium. Pool play will run until 7:00pm on Friday evening. On Saturday, April 14, the playoff rounds kick off at 9:00am with the Cup Final scheduled for 4:30pm.
Full schedule available for Download (pdf)