It was a battle of the undefeateds in the TRU McKenna Cup game as both finalists, Belleville and Markham Irish, ran rampant through their respective divisions with identical 10-0 records. With two evenly matched and athletic sides playing for promotion to the OWL, the game turned out to be just as exciting as most pundits predicted.
From the opening kickoff, both teams used their forwards to gain territory and tie up defenders before spinning the ball out to the backs, with Belleville eventually taking advantage of some Irish penalties to camp out inside Markham's 22. Ferocious defence by the ladies in green prevented the Bulldogs from touching down in the end zone, however Belleville wisely chose to eventually kick a penalty to open the scoring and take a 3-0 lead. The Markham Irish backs looked very dangerous but were just a bobbled pass, or slightly mistimed move, from breaking through the Bulldog's defence. Fortune changed near the 20 minute mark as the Irish moved up field with some excellent sustained play, eventually putting the ball through the backs hands and finding veteran Dallas Price unmarked on the wing. Taking advantage of the space, she sprinted in from 40 metres out to touch down in the corner for the first try of the match, and putting the Irish into the lead at 5-3. Soon after, co-captain and fly half Lauren Cranfield stepped up and intercepted an under-pressured Bulldog pass and scampered in from 30 yards out to score under the posts, with #9 Ann Capra calmly adding the conversion to extend the lead to 12-3.
Belleville, however, did not go unbeaten for no reason, and bounced back in the half's final quarter to score two tries from sustained periods of pressure, going into half time with a 13-12 lead. Both teams used the break to make adjustments and came out firing on all cylinders. Belleville again looked dangerous and threatened to score again deep in Markham territory, but a well-earned turnover and a couple of quick passes allowed fullback and speedster Cheyenne DeLuca to turn the corner around two very surprised defenders near the 22 and sprint untouched from 80 metres out to score her team leading 12th try of the season. Capra supplied the convert, and Markham Irish had regained the lead at 19-13. Now dominating the set pieces and beginning to take control of the game with about 20 minutes to go, disaster struck as a Belleville centre intercepted a pass near midfield and scored under the posts giving the Bulldogs the lead again, 20-19 after the conversion.
Shaking off the setback, the Irish women dug deep and went back to work, gaining confidence and territory with every minute played. Again, after some phenomenal support play and smart decision making, Markham attacked as very dangerous outside centre Kareece McGregor charged through a gap near the sideline and sprinted in to score from 25 metres out, taking the lead back, 24-20, with about 10 minutes remaining. Belleville threw everything that they had at the brave ladies in green, but their solid, organized defending and strong work at scrums and line outs prevented the Belleville comeback and saw the Markham Irish emerge victorious at the final whistle, worthy champions and new 2017 OWL members.
It was a most entertaining match, with six lead changes throughout, and saw the incredible spirit, talent and skill of the Irish on full display. Well done ladies!!!