For two weeks in March, former Lake City Falcons rugby player Laurel White exchanged her team jersey for the opportunity to play in New Zealand and Australia with North Vancouver’s Carson Graham Eagles.
“It gave me lots of experience and showed me things I didn’t know,” said the 18-year-old of the exchange. “We were playing with some of the highest level of girl rugby players out there.”
They met and played against a 16-year-old girl in New Zealand who played with the women’s national team.
“Her name was Lauren and they called her Tizzie,” Laurel said.
With the exception of participating in one practice before the team flew out of Vancouver, Laurel hadn’t played with the Eagles because they were in a different pool.
Eagles coach Brad Baker said he first met Laurel when he was coaching a U18 girls rep team that was playing at the Provincial Rugby Championships.
“Laurel stayed with one of my player’s families and we stayed in contact,” Baker said.
“Then when I saw her at the BC Championships in Port Alberni I asked her if she wanted to come along.”
Baker said he knows Lake City coach Morley Wilson quite well and in the past, Baker coached Kayla Moleschi of Williams Lake when she was on Team BC.
“It’s good to have that connection with Williams Lake because they try to do rugby for the kids up there,” he said.
Carson Graham’s girls rugby team has gone to New Zealand and Australia five times in the last 20 years and has also been to England and Wales and California and tries to go on a big trip every second year.
“We played some of the best rugby teams in New Zealand. We struggled a bit, but it was a great learning experience,” Baker said.
During the trip they played three full games, lost two and tied one and in a sevens tournament they won one out of five games.
Laurel played all of the games and when asked what she likes about the sport said the intensity and feel of the game.
“Sevens involves more running and 15s more tackling,” she explained.
Aside from sports, the team learned about local culture.
They visited Tamaki, a Maori village, where they were welcomed by men in traditional dress.
“We ate a big feast where meat and potatoes were cooked underground in a hole,” Laurel said. “And we learned the women receive a tattoo on their chins every time they have a child.”
At Kiwi Paka they spent three nights in a hostel and in Fielding were billeted with the players’ families.
Before their games in Fielding the local players performed the Haka, a traditional war dance and song.
“The girls aren’t allowed to beat their chests and can only tap their thighs when they do the song,” Laurel said.
In response the Canadian team sang O Canada, while their parents back at home received a message from Baker saying the atmosphere on the field was first class, Laurel’s mom Sue White said.
“It started with our girls — arm and arm together singing O Canada. This was followed by the Haka from the Fielding girls,” Sue read from her phone.
The team also toured the Massey University Sports and Rugby Institute in Palmerson North where New Zealand’s National Men’s Rugby Team the All Blacks train.
And in Australia the girls trained with the Manly Warringah Sea-Eagles in New South Wales.
“Watching professional rugby players was cool for the kids,” Baker said.