The Women’s Premier League (WPL) held its second annual All-Star Game in Denver, and Rugged Rugby Tour built it out into much more of an event (read more). The match itself was different as well, and it was felt during the build-up through game day.
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“There was a lot of excitement from the very first conversation with players,” said WPL East coach Ros Chou. “They knew [new USA 15s head coach] Rob [Cain] was going to be there and that two players would be selected to go to the senior camp. They knew that was a huge opportunity.
“Last year’s game was a different scenario,” Chou said of the inaugural fixture. “That was a prep match for the national team [heading to the Women’s Rugby World Cup] and a way to give back. This year, there were stakes. There was competition and excitement, and camaraderie at the same time. That’s what I love about the WPL. They’re elite players but there’s definitely camaraderie. You’re part of a tribe.”
Chou, along with WPL West coach Kitt Ruiz, is dedicated to the league’s longevity and has been involved with the WPL All-Star Game these past two years from an organizational standpoint. When James English stepped aside as East head coach earlier in the summer, Chou, who was originally going to serve as assistant manager to Tiffany Faaee, was honored to step in, although it did put a time crunch on preparation. English and Faaee recommended Shelby Lin and Alycia Washington as captains, and the trio set off to formulate attack and defense plans for the East.
“We were a little behind the eight ball compared to the West,” Chou said of implementing game plans, “but they’re an elite group so they picked it up quickly.”
The full squad spent the first training session in Denver together, playing touch and running out the plane ride, and then separated into East and West for the remainder of the build-up. “West Coast, Best Coast” and “East Coast, Beast Coast” were among the online chants that started to appear, insinuating that players were getting into the representative spirit.
“We had a joint jersey ceremony and there was skepticism on whether that was the right thing to do, because they were really getting into their squads,” Chou reflected fondly. “It just showed the true competitive nature of each team … and that there was going to be a real rivalry.”
RWC 7s ref Jenny Lui and Christiane Pheil captained the West, which took the first lead of the game after a Julie Tordonato try and Megan Foster conversion. The East then accounted for the next three scores, pushing out to 19-7 lead on two tries from Lauran Glover, one from Darian Lovelace and two of Emily Jones’ four conversions. The West then surged, getting a try from flyhalf Hannah Stolba, who later connected with Tordonato on the opposite sideline for the center’s second try. Foster’s conversions tied it up 19-19 into the break.
A second lead change occurred in the second half when wing Denali Graham got into the corner, 24-19, and then the third and final lead change occurred in the final 20 minutes. The East’s Misha Green and Glover dotted down, and Jones kicked two conversions for the 33-24 win. Foster won the West MVP, while Glover, who was invited to the USA 15s training camp, was named East MVP.
“Our skill level off the bench definitely helped,” Chou said. “We had two great people in every position, equally as skilled, although maybe differently skilled, and to be able to flip flop like that helped us sustain ourselves for 80 minutes.”
Cain took in the whole performance and had addressed players and staff during the assembly. Chou indicated that the new USA 15s coach was pleasantly surprised with what he saw, especially considering where players are in the season (i.e., there isn’t much 15s happening in the summer).
“The players made it a great experience because they were just excited. There’s a lot of momentum heading into the WPL season, especially with Rob being very vocal in his support of the league. He will visit every single team in the league and spend time with coaches and players,” Chou said. “He’s coming from the [English Tyrrells Premier 15s] and so he values players competing in a centralized league.”
Chou was also very appreciative of Rugged Rugby Tour’s sponsorship of the event. The company’s involvement will help the All-Star Game become an annual destination and also keep players’ camp fee low – which is always a concern, and a nice reward for those who played well in the season prior.
The 2018 WPL season is the 10th anniversary of the league, and eight of 10 teams will be play their first games on Aug. 18-19. Click here for more info on the WPL.
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