The University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team became injury laden faster than they could manage and allowed UBC to come back and take the game 26-24 in Vancouver on Sept. 9.

It was an intense, hard-hitting affair under mostly rainy skies at the Gerald McGavin UBC Rugby Centre that saw Victoria enjoy the lead for the lion share of the first 71 minutes of the match.  Adding to the stakes was the Legends Cup on site as it was the second game of the recently announced rivalry series between the schools. With two points for today’s win UBC enjoys a 4-0 early season advantage over the Vikes following a T-Birds win in women’s soccer to kick off the series two weeks ago.

The Vikes came into action as the favourite on the strength of being voted the No.1-ranked team in the pre-season Canada West coaches poll but UBC, ranked fourth, and under the guidance of first year head coach Dean Murten were equal to the task. Several experienced Vikes were either unable to play today or left the game due to injuries, forcing Waters to really look down her bench.

“It was a really evenly matched game going back and forth,” said Vikes head coach Brittany Waters in her fourth season at the helm. “They had a stronger set piece. When you don’t have a strong platform it feels like you are going backwards the whole time. Credit to our team and some subs who had to step up in key roles when we lost players to some big injuries.”

It was Victoria that set the early tone, marching down field with purpose on their first possession with flanker Renee Gonzales crossing the goal line for a try just three minutes in while Maddy Aberg followed up with the convert for a 7-0 advantage. Following some back-and-forth play eight minutes later, the T-Birds responded when captain Madison Gold found a hole up the middle and pulled away with speed for the score. Shoshanah Seumanutafa was good on the convert to force a 7-7 tie.

What followed was another methodical drive by the visitors capped off by lock Zoe Goodwin-Sutton scoring and Aberg’s convert for a 14-7 Vikes lead. UBC responded yet again with a slugging individual run along the right sideline from fullback Nicole Mallow, who was shedding tacklers en route to just punching it over the goal line. The ‘Birds missed the convert from a very sharp angle and found themselves within two, trailing 14-12. In the 38th minute the Vikes increased their lead by three to 17-12 thanks to Aberg executing on a penalty goal.

On the other side of the break it was the Vikes striking again to extend their lead in minute 44 as winger Linnea Dalvi displayed her blazing speed after picking up the ball near midfield. The rookie went wide left to get the edge and scampered untouched for the score. Aberg’s third conversion stretched the lead 24-12.

Down by 12 points the ‘Birds didn’t get discouraged and found and kept the battle level high, in the 61stminute deep in opposing territory the hosts were awarded a penalty try courtesy of back row Lyric Atchison due to Victoria being offside at the scrum. The full seven points on the spot pulled UBC within five at 24-19 and the promise for an intense finish with just under 20 minutes to play.

“There were a few tactical deisions that let us down when we were up and that allowed UBC back into the game,” noted Waters. “They weren’t going to give up.”

“Renee, Gurp Dhaliwal and Maddy Aberg were excellent for us today – both on defence and attack. They got us a lot of going forward ball and showed a lot of leadership.”

The deciding moment came in the 71st minute with the T-Birds grinding away in Vikes territory, first-year lock Emma Feldinger changed the pace and perhaps caught some off guard by cutting right up the gut for slicing score to tie the game at 24 all. Seumanutafa’s third convert of the match was the difference giving UBC a 26-24 lead, their first of the game and one they did not relinquish to secure a season-opening season victory.

“We have to be aware that we are young this year and we have a lot of inexperienced players,” added Waters. “Playing to keep possession is going to take some time to develop. We obviously want to win every game but we also have to be aware of where we are at with the players that we have and we are managing a lot of injuries. We need some younger players to step up if we are going to win. This week we are going to look at lots of tactical decisions and giving people the reps they need to be ready. We also have a lot of body management for our injuries.”

The Vikes will look to rebound next weekend when they host Lethbridge on Sept. 16 at 11:30 a.m. at Wallace Field.