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Dal women’s rugby is kicking up the intensity this season

Despite only playing four regular season games, the team is looking forward to playing at every chance they get

Rugby may only be a club sport at Dalhousie University but the Dal women’s rugby team is determined to make the most of every opportunity this season. 

“There’s a lot of want to get to this next level,” said Grace Bender, a second-year biology student and consistent starting player for the team. 

The team only gets the chance to play six games this fall season, four league games and two exhibition games, due to weather limitations and the schedules of other teams, but they’re making the most of their opportunities.

The Tigers play against the Halifax Tars Rugby Football Club and Riverlake Rugby Football Club in the regular season, two teams that hold a lot of experienced senior players. 

“It’s definitely different,” said Bender about playing with non-university teams. “We get to play with really experienced women which is exciting. We’re not kind of stuck playing with 20 to 23 year olds.” 

Being made up of mostly undergraduate Dal and University of King’s College students, the Tigers are on the young side in their league, which can be a blessing and a curse. 

“We’re a little younger and we have better endurance for the most part,” said Bender, “but these women have been playing forever, they’re really experienced and they’re smart players so it makes for interesting matches.”

The team also played exhibition games against St. Francis Xavier University and Acadia University this season in an effort to get more playing time in. 

Unfortunately, being a club team also comes with its disadvantages.

“It’s nice that it’s lower commitment but we play at a different level,” said Bender. “When you’re a club, you can’t tell people to miss class or miss midterms to go to multiple games a week.”

A mental game

Bender feels the team has been working well together so far, despite having a lot of new players. 

“The fact that we’ve been able to play so well together so far is impressive,” said Bender. “[The rookies] just seem really willing to learn. They’re good listeners and they want to show that they deserve to be on a starting lineup.”

The team has had their fair share of highs and lows this season, posting an impressive 81-12 victory over Riverlake but falling hard to the Tars most recently.

“I think it’s all momentum,” said Bender, about the difference in performance between games. “Like of course you have to be good and work with your team but if you get in your own end after the other team’s scored a try and your head’s down, you’re never going to get that try back.”

Being in the right headspace is especially important for Bender, who is very ritualistic on game days. 

“I have to play the right music and warm-up a certain way,” said Bender. “I really have to hype myself up to play any good at all because I know I have the rugby skills but if I can’t put them to use then they’re no good.”

Bender’s pre-game playlist varies slightly game by game, but she says it always includes “If you want blood” by AC/DC and “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner. 

Bender’s journey on the team

Bender originally began playing rugby at the age of 12, after being told by teachers to stop being so rough on the playground. 

“I was like this sucks, I wish I could actually roughhouse and then I was like oh, there’s a sport for that,” she said.

Naturally, Bender began playing position seven, openside flanker, which puts her in charge of a lot of hard hitting. She joked that all of her teammates seem nice, but it might just be because they don’t want to be on the receiving end of her hits. 

Going into her first year at Dal, Bender knew she wanted to join the rugby team, but now she’s looking for even more. 

“Right now I’m not on exec and I just kind of hang around,” she said. “I’m hoping next year to go for vice-president because honestly I observe things and there are changes I’d like to make. To actually be listened to as more than just a person on the field level would be nice.”

One of the big things Bender is looking for in the club is more chances to practice like a varsity sports team. 

“Everyone knows that but we don’t have to say we’re just a club,” said Bender. “It is what we make it.” 

Just like her own pre-game rituals, Bender thinks structure could bring up the team’s intensity. 

“It’s all a mental game,” she said. “This is technically a club but we’re here two times a week and those two times and game days we should pretend we’re varsity. We should play with all those things in mind and try to make a name for ourselves.” 

The Tigers have two games left this season, one against Riverlake and the other against the Tars, on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 respectively.


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