From Concordia to the national rugby team, Frédérique Rajotte and Alex Tessier share their experience
When Frédérique Rajotte saw Canadian fans cheering for her following a Women’s Rugby World Cup match in Dublin, Ireland, she started crying.
“I thought, ‘Wow this is so special,’” Rajotte said. “My parents were there with my sister and her husband. So [my family and the fans being there] was really special, and you just felt the pride.”
Rajotte, a fifth-year centre with the Concordia Stingers, played for Canada in the Women’s Rugby World Cup this summer. Alex Tessier, another fifth-year centre with the Stingers, joined Rajotte on the journey to represent their country.
“It’s always such an honour [to represent Canada],” said Tessier, who has played for Team Canada before at various levels. “It’s always so special to play at the highest level. It’s hard to describe.”
Tessier and Rajotte traded in their standard Stingers maroon and gold for the Canadian red and white for almost the entire month of August. The two Concordia students are roommates in Montreal and were roommates in Ireland. They agreed it was a special experience to have each other there.
“Our connection is strong on the field and off the field,” Tessier said. “It’s always good having confidence in someone.”
“Having Alex [there], there’s kind of a sense of home,” Rajotte said.
Twelve teams participated in the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which is played once every three years. Even though the two Stingers were surrounded by players from all around the world, they said they kept to themselves.
“You always think [the World Cup] is going to be a lot of socializing,” Rajotte said. “But we didn’t interact with other teams. Not saying we were anti-social or rude about it, but we were very focused on ourselves, and we had a team-first mentality.”
“I’m not the most outgoing person,” Tessier added, “so I didn’t meet players from other teams. But it was cool to be all together and see other cultures—like the New Zealand culture is something different.”
Before each game, New Zealand rugby teams—known as the All Blacks for their all-black uniforms—perform the traditional Haka dance, which is unique in the world of rugby. According to Tourism New Zealand, the Haka originates from the Maori people, who are indigenous to New Zealand. The Maori performed the Haka in preparation of war, to symbolize the tribe’s pride, strength and unity.
The Haka tradition was passed down from armies to New Zealand’s rugby teams, who try to intimidate their opponents with the dance before each match. The Canadian team had to face the Haka before their match against New Zealand on Aug. 17.
“It’s impressive at first, but you just have to focus on your game,” Tessier said. “It doesn’t affect you, it can’t affect you.”
Rajotte added that while Team Canada respected the dance because of its history, they just wanted to get to the game. “Seeing that, I think that it’s a challenge or an invitation to go to war, but you get used to it,” she said.
Canada lost that game against New Zealand 48-5, which was their final pool game. Before that, Canada beat Hong Kong 98-0 in their first match, where Tessier scored a try. They also beat Wales, 15-0, in the second match.
The two wins weren’t enough for Canada, as their loss against New Zealand disqualified them from the semi-final. The All Blacks eventually won the tournament, while Rajotte, Tessier and the rest of Team Canada were relegated into the fifth-place playoffs.
In a battle for pride in the playoffs, Canada beat Wales 52-0, then Australia 43-12, to finish in fifth place at the Rugby World Cup. Before the tournament, Canada was ranked as the fourth-best team in the world. For the two Stingers, their failure to earn a spot on the podium was disappointing.
“We didn’t have the result we wanted. We were supposed to get the medals,” Tessier said. “It pissed us off that we lost that game [against New Zealand]. So the two last games we played for fifth place were amazing games that I will never forget, because they were really well fought.”
Rajotte added that Canada could compete with the stronger teams like New Zealand and England, the other team that made it to the final. She said the Canadian women’s national team has a lot of potential.
“There’s a lot of hope, and there were a lot of veterans on the team who are retiring, so now it’s up to the younger girls to take over,” she said. “[The veterans] did a great job of sharing their knowledge and their past experiences.”
Tessier and Rajotte both said they learned a lot about discipline and professionalism with the Canadian team. “Discipline, we call it being pro, like being on time and being efficient,” Tessier said. “We try to focus on quality over quantity. That’s one thing I took away, is discipline and staying focused.”
The Stingers veterans aim to bring that professionalism back to the Stingers in their final year with the team. The soft-spoken Tessier said the team needs to have a one-game-at-a-time mentality in order win the championship, while the outgoing Rajotte was more direct about what she thought the team could accomplish.
“We are going to win the RSEQ championship, and we are going to go to Nationals in Alberta.”
Main photo by Alex Hutchin