Coming out of Covid, the MICRC women faced a daunting task. For 2 years, there was no women’s rugby, so determining who was still interested in playing and fielding a team for league play was going to be a big challenge. To compound the problem, previous coaches Nicole and Thorney moved on so there was another large gap. As the season approached, large efforts were made to ensure there was a viable place for women rugby players to play for the Club. Former Irish men’s player and long-time OWL coach, Braeden Cockburn, was recruited to coach the team, and former and new players registered to get playing numbers over 20. However, with the pandemic coming to an end, and competition for players’ time (including travel, weddings, social obligations etc), as well as the potential for injuries, there weren’t enough players to ensure a full roster each Saturday.
Meanwhile, other senior teams faced similar challenges. Ajax Wanderers, coached by former Markham senior players, Shelley and Darren Ince, also lacked sufficient numbers to be viable. So, after a brief negotiation, the Wandering Irish were born!
In true “spirit of rugby” fashion, the players and coaches came together to create a viable entity that provided playing opportunities for everyone, while minimizing injury risk from too much field time. Practices were held separately on Tuesdays, while meeting at one or the other Club’s pitch for a full squad practice on Thursdays. Home games alternated between the Irish and Wanderers’ pitches.
Initial results were not great, as the sides tried to integrate different styles, and players learned to play together and understand differing tendencies. As the season progressed, however, the ladies started to gel, and put together some top flight rugby. Although wins remained elusive, there was tremendous development on the field as players grew individually, and the team developed its own identity. Teams that had dominated us the first time through were now being pushed right to the limit, and games were in the balance until the final moments.
After a shaky start, all will agree that the season was a success! From not being certain there would be a team at the start of the season to playing quality rugby by the end, there is a solid base to build on next season. While the goal of both clubs is to field their own teams next season, it is nice to know that there are options to guarantee a women’s rugby opportunity for everyone interested next season!
Huge thanks to the coaches and players who put in big efforts, and followed a “rugby first” mentality to ensure a great result for everyone!