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  • Writer's pictureKaren Gasbarino

Canadian Classics Women Get Set to Take on the Lone-Star State 

From March 13-16, 2024, the Canadian Classics Women will be hosted by the Houston Athletic Club’s Senior Women. On the heels of the Classics Men's visit to Texas, the women look to secure their place in Classics history by embarking on their third consecutive annual tour.

For those less familiar with the Canadian Classics’ Women’s side, the program was re-established in 2022 after having met once in Bermuda. With Executive Director Darrin Chaplin’s hard work and leadership, a team was formed to reintroduce the women’s Classics to Canadian rugby. The secondary goal was to establish an expectation that the team would form annually to face other Classics women’s teams. 

The problem faced by Chaplin and his planning team – rugby professionals from coast to coast with coaching, managing, and communications skills in the collective tool belt – is that very few unions have a Classics women’s side. They soon realized that they were having to help unions build programs from the ground up. There was a lot of interest; implementation would take time.

For the inaugural meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the Classics played a Senior team made up of Swiler’s and Newfoundland Senior Women. Realizing the challenges of finding opponents of equal experience and age, Chaplin and the team got creative. Their solution was to turn the tour into a part match and part educational opportunity for the next generation of women rugby players. The result was an invaluable experience for both visitors and local players. The hosts gave it their all, honoured to play against their sporting heroes.

The caliber of players interested in joining the Classics was clear from the outset. Former Canadian sensation Julie Foster, with an impressive 44 international caps, both coached and played in 2022, then moved into a full-time coaching role for 2023 and 2024. Former XV Women’s stars have also taken part: Kayla Mack, Maria Samson, Hilary Leith, Jill Gainer, and Sheila Turner all joined the team to provide spark to the flame to reinvigorate the Women’s Classics program. Leith and Gainer both continued through 2023 and 2024.

The Newfoundland tour a smashing success, all agreed the momentum would need to be carried through to the following year.

Goal: cement the Women’s Classics place in the Canadian rugby scene. To that end, in July 2023, a Women’s Classics team was again assembled to follow the Men’s Classics tour to Boston. This time, the women played a formidable “Lions-Style” team, senior women combined from clubs throughout the New Hampshire region. Classics was able to field two teams during that tour, with four coaches and a complement of support staff. 

Capped players again joined the team, as well as Canadian Rugby League National team players. All athletes are players and leaders, coaches, and administrators at the Canadian club rugby level.

Boston was deemed another success. Momentum and support for the Classics Women was growing. Soaring temperatures aside, the back-to-back matches at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, Massachusetts were an impressive show of skill and cohesion.

Chaplin’s task of stirring up more Classics Women’s teams has taken on new meaning; seeing the quality of play and hearing how meaningful it is to Canadian women of all ages that the program grow and succeed, he realized that more unions would benefit by forming the women’s side in the Classics format. 

Possibilities started to surface for great potential tour locations in the future. Informally, the program is penciled

in for the next three or four years as opposing sides get their ducks in a row. In the meantime, the Classics Women will again gather on the heels of a men’s tour in 2024 with a packed tour to Houston, Texas. On March 16, the Classics Women will play the Houston Athletic Rugby Club at the Houston Sabercats Stadium as a curtain raiser to the Houston Sabercats v Miami Sharks MLR match. Growing strength over strength.

The future is bright for the program. Four players will be on debut for 2024 with the remainder having appeared in Boston, and many of those part of the initial team in St. John’s. Many other players are showing interest and waiting for their current commitments to allow for them to join Classics for a tour. 

The women have formed bonds with one another and have taken a newfound energy back to their home clubs. Some women who had thought of hanging up the boots continue to play at the senior club level. Some have had babies in the last three years and have worked hard on their fitness to continue their involvement, bolstered by more and more professional female athletes shining the spotlight on enjoying motherhood AND their athletic careers at the same time. All involved with Canadian Classics believe passionately in growing women’s rugby in Canada and in encouraging Classics programs the world over. 

In the meantime, Chaplin and his coaching and administration team continue to put out feelers for future fixtures with the positive result being great enthusiasm for expanding into the women’s side.

Canadian Classics Rugby is growing. With more eyes on the growth and success of the women’s involvement, the program will continue to build momentum. 

Watch this space. 

  • Karen Gasbarino, February, 2024

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