Growing up in Redvers, Sask., Sylvianne Poirier played volleyball and basketball, figure skated, ran cross-country and competed in track and field events. She was a very active kid but there was always one sport she wanted to try.
"I always wanted to play rugby but there was nothing close to home,” Poirier said.
Last summer she got the chance to play after a friend pointed her towards a club team in Regina, the Condors. Immediately Poirier fell in love with the game.
Fast forward through a summer of learning the rules and building up her strength and stamina and she found herself ready to take the next step in her rugby career.
“They said that they wanted anyone to join the (University of Regina) team so I thought why not,” she said.
The university has a women’s varsity club team that any student can join, no players are cut, and its top 12 players travel and play competitively. This season the team has been doing well.
“(The team is) improving every year, the girls are really taking it serious,” said head coach Julie Foster.
The Cougars plays a “7s” format of rugby where each team has seven players on the field and two seven minute halves are played for a 14 minute game.
“7s is a great introduction to the whole sport because it tends to be in 14 minutes, nothing can go really wrong in 14 minutes,” said assistant coach Leah Olson. “It's a high paced sort of game.”
For Poirier last year was dedicated to learning the ropes of the game.
“What I've done in the past is look at rugby videos just to get techniques from it and watching the other girls play while I'm sitting on the sidelines, just looking at them and seeing what I can improve on,” Poirier said.
Between learning from her coaches and teammates she has improved as a player.
“She's still a little bit raw in areas but she's really picking the game up fast,” Foster said.
Poirier describes her play as aggressive. She enjoys tackling the other girls and taking out stress from student life on the field.
The team has players ranging from first year players to experienced players. They come from a variety of backgrounds-- some have played rugby in high school and others have played other sports like football and wrestling.
In Saskatchewan rugby has just started to gain a stronger foothold and the number of players has gone up significantly. According to the Saskatchewan Rugby Union, historically they have been around 1,400 members each year, but last year there were close to 1,600 members.
“Rugby was such an adult dominated sport, there wasn't a lot of opportunity for even high school kids or younger kids until they modified the rules,” said Jordan Astrope, executive director of the Saskatchewan Rugby Union.
Rugby has now been modified to be played as a non-contact sport, and it is being introduced to school age children.
In 2010 the Saskatchewan Rugby Union launched mini rugby, bringing the chance to play rugby to more Saskatchewan children. The program provides communities with training materials in order to start a rugby program for elementary school children. Currently there are programs in Saskatoon, Regina, Lloydminster and Lashburn. Prince Albert will be starting one this year.
"As long as we keep establishing those grass roots programs, I think the interest will continue to grow quite a bit,” Astrope said.
The sport is picking up in popularity also with the introduction of 7s to the summer Olympics this year in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
For Poirier she may just have started playing this year but this is just the start of her rugby career. She travels with the Cougars to Vancouver, BC on March 10 for the national tournament.
“I can say I'm pretty nervous about it, but I know that as a team we connect very well so as a team we're going to go into it pretty ready I think,” Poirier said.
She hopes she’ll be able to continue playing with the Condors during the summer. Poirier is a forth year Kinesiology student and when she graduates she hopes to become a chiropractor in Toronto, Ont. where she will search out another rugby team so she can continue playing.