The rugby community in Regina has been opening their arms to some special guests as a major tournament approaches.
Mexico’s women’s rugby sevens team is training in the Queen City as they prepare for the World Cup in July in San Francisco. Sevens is different from traditional rugby in that each team has seven people on the field as opposed to 15.
The team was brought to Regina by head coach Robin MacDowell, who moved to the city from Vancouver Island eight years ago.
Since moving, MacDowell has been a staple in the city’s rugby community, currently the head coach of both University of Regina programs.
MacDowell’s rugby career would eventually land him a spot on Mexico’s national team after offering some advice during a tournament in Cuba.
“I came onto the field in the cup final match and I gave them a couple of pointers, they were down four scores and they took my advice and they came back and won five scores to four.”
After the game, Rosie, the captain of the team, and her husband asked him to be a part of the program.
After being a consultant for a few years, MacDowell would take over the reigns as head coach almost two years ago.
“I live and work full-time in Saskatchewan, I just get a lot of air miles.”
One of the reasons MacDowell brings the team to Regina is to allow them to get experience in a place that is not familiar to them.
“A lot of these women have never left Mexico.”
With this year being the first time the team has qualified for the World Championships, MacDowell wanted them to get used to living and practising in an unfamiliar place.
It also allows the team to practice on a better field than what they are used to back in Mexico.
“It looks like a Saskatchewan back road, it’s really bumpy and it’s really, really hard so it’s actually quite dangerous,” he said.
Something a few of his players agree with.
“It’s like we’re practising on concrete,” said Michelle Farah Chalita, who’s been playing the sport for seven years.
Farahchalita also said coming to Regina allows them to practice against more experienced teams.
“We’re so grateful, to be honest, to be in one of the countries that have one of the best teams in the world.”
Farah Chalita said MacDowell has helped grow the game immensely in Mexico, going from five teams to over 70, including a league for women under 14 years of age.
One of the young players making her first trip away from Mexico is Zoe Tuyu. She began playing seven years ago and started because her father had played the sport and never thought she’d be playing against teams like New Zealand.
“It’s my idols and now we have the chance to play against them and it’s amazing.”
Tuyu also has an extra responsibility being the youngest player on the team — the 18-year-old is in charge of carrying around their mascot, a stuffed snake named Conscience, wherever she goes.
“Sometimes we started to forget it at the beginning … So we have now an arrangement that the youngest person travelling with us at the moment have to carry it.”
Farah Chalita explained the snake first came to them in 2013 in the Cayman Islands when the manager gave them the snake.
Along with being their team name — The Snakes — it is a national symbol of Mexico. Everywhere the team has travelled, they sew a patch onto the stuffed animal.
Before the team travels to San Francisco, it will compete in Vancouver Island by having a match against the Canadian national team.