A Whitehorse rugby team has gone from punchline to seriously unamusing for Alaska squads.
After going winless last year, the Gold Diggers took third out of 16 teams at the Midnight Sun Sevens tournament in Anchorage on Saturday.
“Last year was a reconnaissance mission. We patched together what we could to go and handled ourselves well, but it was a bit of an eye-opener,” said Gold Diggers club president Darrin Sinclair.
“Last year we were laughed at at the start. They were thinking we were quite a joke and we showed them we weren’t. Even though we didn’t draw up any wins, we earned some respect. This year there was no laughing.”
The Gold Diggers dug up a third place finish with three wins and two losses, and came close to reaching the final.
The Whitehorse team, which is in just its third season, missed the final with a four-point loss to Anchorage’s Manu Bears, who went on to win the tournament.
“From what we hear, they play five nights a week, and play in the Alaska Rugby Union’s top division,” said Sinclair. “They train full on and we’re doing one night of training.”
The Diggers’ run was bookended by losses. They opened with a two-point loss to the 907 Brothers from Anchorage before beating three other Anchorage teams. The Gold Diggers topped the Bird Creek Barbarians, the Turnagain Bore Tide and the Arctic Legion RFC military team from Elmendorf Air Force.
“We definitely turned some heads, got lots of pats on the back, handshakes and even the occasional beer to tell us we improved quite a bit from last year. They were quite impressed with us,” said Sinclair.
“Touch is fun – it keeps you active and keeps you going – but rugby is essentially made for contact,” he added, referring to drop-in games of touch (non-contact) the club holds weekly.
Yukon was also represented on the women’s side of the tournament. Lindsay Caskenette, Katie Vanderstelt, Tara Cosco and Bethanna Cavey joined the Fairbanks Ravens women’s team but were unable to propel the team to a win.
Caskenette “was like a heat-seeking missile on the field,” Vanderstelt “was the surprise of the tournament” with multiple tries, and Cosco “played an excellent tournament for having never played contact rugby before,” said Sinclair.
Rugby sevens, a modified version of the sport, will be played at the Rio Olympics this summer.
“It wasn’t U.S.A. versus Canada, but pulling on the Yukon jersey and being up against 15 American teams gave you something extra to play for,” said Sinclair.
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