Maple Leafs complete double over AIG WCAAs

SALT LAKE CITY - Rugby Canada's Maple Leafs won their second matchup with the USA Rugby AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans Saturday, a 45-13 result at Regional Athletic Complex.

The All-Americans hoped to send the Canadian development side home with at least one loss following a 15-10 defeat earlier in the week, but failed to even the two-match series against an older, more experienced opponent.

"It's been a big learning experience for us," WCAA captain Jennifer Johnson said post-match. "We have girls as young as 19 - I'm 19 still - so it's been a big jump, but a big learning curve to show us what that next level's going to feel and look like."

Pennsylvania State University's Gabriella Cantorna gave the WCAAs an early lead after just three minutes as the Americans pressured their opening restart, kicking a penalty goal to make it 3-0. Cantorna's fly half counterpart, Jess Neilson, replied with a kick of her own to level the match in the seventh minute, and Mackenzie Higgs' break from the ensuing restart set up Julia Goss' first try and an 8-3 advantage for the visitors.

The WCAAs won a scrum at midfield in the 11th minute before the attack slowly began to move backwards. The Maple Leafs drew a penalty just beyond the 10, and Sara Svoboda sliced through the defense from a quick tap to extend her team's lead to 15-3.

The Maple Leafs stole the ball after an All-American scrum a few minutes later, but the WCAAs did well to win the ball back. More pressure from the WCAAs forced the Maple Leafs into a forward pass in the 20th minute, and a successive penalty in the set piece brought the tee onto the field for Cantorna, who added three points for a 15-6 scoreline.

Petra Woods, a first-half substitute necessitated due to injury, added a third try for the Maple Leafs in the last 10 minutes of the first half to bring the halftime score to 20-6.

While the All-Americans were happy with the way they finished Tuesday's match and prepared for Saturday's, execution on the day, as well as a top-notch opponent, kept the WCAAs from competing in the contact area.

"All of that wonderful progress they made - they didn't really get a chance to show it," Head Coach Sue Whitwell said. "They had the width, they had the shape, and they knew what they wanted to do; it was really about possession retention for us.

"The last several assemblies have been with high-level club teams, but this is the first time they've faced that kind of pressure in the breakdown and at the contact point."

Goss opened the second half with her second try, but a selection of substitutes gave the WCAAs an extra burst. Ilona Maher broke the gain line through multiple tackles and the Maple Leafs conceded a penalty a phase later, and Johnson pointed McKenzie Hawkins towards the touch line. A potential try was held up from the lineout, but a few crash balls from the next scrum led to another penalty, and Johnson took the tap over the line for a 28-13 scoreline.

The Maple Leafs regained control of the match with time management, however, with Neilson kicking two penalty goals and Svoboda scoring twice for her hat trick to bring the final score to 45-13.

Made up of athletes from more than a dozen colleges, the young women of the Women's Collegiate All-Americans will go back to school in the fall with plenty of lessons to share with their teammates, and the goal of future national-team selection.

"We want to represent our country in the best way possible," Johnson said. "Whatever 23 or 26 we have in the squad need to be prepared, so everyone has to do the work at home. When we're together we don't have much time, so we have to come together quickly when we're here."

"They're going to remember this moment," Whitwell said of the 2016 WCAAs. "They're going to remember every single breakdown, they're going to remember the kind of pressure they were under, and bring that back to their clubs to hopefully raise the game at those levels.

"We have 26 players walking away from this assembly much better rugby players than when they first came here. The information gained and lessons learned from these matches will now be disseminated all across the United States, so when we get another round of players coming in hopefully they will have had more practice at the contact point of a higher caliber."

AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans | v. Maple Leafs
1. Rebekah Hebdon
2. Bridget Kahele
3. Azniv Nalbandian
4. Jennifer Johnson (C)
5. Haley Schafer
6. Yeja Dunn
7. Taylah Pipkin
8. Ilona Maher
9. Kat Ramage
10. Gabby Cantorna
11. Danielle Ordway
12. McKenzie Hawkins
13. Sarah Buonopane
14. Uzo Okoro
15. Nicole Benedetti

AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans | Reserves
16. Frieda Fetu'u
17. Francesca Sands
18. Kaityln Broughton
19. Megan Rom
20. Jessica Lewis
21. Bailey Johnson
22. Elizabeth Rose
23. Lanoira Duhart

Maple Leafs | v. USA
1. Brittany Kassil
2. Megan Copeland-Dinan
3. Chelsea Minter
4. Camille Provencal-Aube
5. Daria Keane
6. Gillian Boag
7. Sara Svoboda
8. Gabby Senft
9. Lori Josephson (C)
10. Jess Neilson
11. Lisa Gauthier
12. Mackenzie Higgs
13. Julia Goss
14. Natasha Smith
15. Alanna Fittes

Maple Leafs | Reserves
16. Kathleen Keller
17. Colleen Irowa
18. Simone Savary
19. Emma Taylor
20. Ngalula Fuamba
21. Justine Pelletier
22. Gillian Allen
23. Petra Woods

AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans | 13
Tries: Johnson
Conversions: Cantorna
Penalties: Cantorna

Maple Leafs | 45
Tries: Goss (2), Svoboda (3), Woods,
Conversions: Neilson (3)
Penalties: Neilson (3)

AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans | Summer 2016
v. Maple Leafs - L 15-10
v. Maple Leafs - L 45-13