BC rivalry renewed as defending champions UBC Thunderbirds take on UVic Vikes in opening week

Women’s Varsity Rugby is back and buzzing ahead of the 2021 Canada West Championship.

After losing the 2020 Championships to the global pandemic, two BC universities are excited about the return of women’s Rugby 15s in western Canada.

The format for Rugby 15s at Canada West is unchanged for the 2021 season. Five western Canada universities – UBC, University of Victoria, Lethbridge, Calgary and Alberta – will battle it out between the September 18 and October 23 regular season. The Canada West Final Four will then head to Calgary for the semifinals (slated October 28) and final (slated October 31), where the 2021 champions will be crowned!

UBC’s Vancouver Thunderbirds, coming off their first conference championship win in 2019, opens its title defence against BC rivals and 2019 bronze medalists, Victoria Vikes, on September 19.

UBC Thunderbirds Rugby


Under the stewardship of head coach Dean Murten, the Thunderbirds squad has been put through a vigorous pre-season. A five-day training camp in Whistler provided plenty of conditioning work and much-needed team bonding, as well as a chance to get the ball back in hand.

Murten believes there is a real buzz around this year’s Championship and expects tough competition, starting with the clash against UVic Vikes this weekend.

“Canada West is a very, very difficult league because anyone can beat anyone on any given day. It’s quality rugby and there are very few blowouts, if any, anymore. It’s demanding,” Murten told BC Rugby.

“When I sometimes look at the other conferences, there are a lot of blowouts. Whereas with Canada West, every game is very tough. We don’t know how other teams have prepared but no doubt everyone has put a lot of hard work in and are very excited and just raring to get back onto the field. That enthusiasm, passion and desire to get everyone going will be massive. It’s going to be tough for all of us. But we’re as well prepared now as we have been for many, many years.”


With the global pandemic limiting training protocols, Murten has enjoyed layering in the return to contact in recent weeks and says his squad is excited to finally get going on the pitch.

His team has missed the little things sometimes taken for granted in Rugby, such as meeting and socialising in groups that help tighten bonds both on and off the field.

Murten is close with the other Canada West coaches and, while admitting they keep their cards close to their chest, he knows they will have all been working as hard as possible to gain an advantage.

While he expects a tough “nip and tuck” opening game against Victoria Vikes, Murten is thankful the championship is going ahead.

“It means so much for the tournament just to get the games going – it’s not that if you don’t win, that’s the end of the tournament for you,” Murten added. “Hopefully we get off to a good start, but it’s just great to get Rugby going again in BC. Hopefully a lot of people will be interested in it.”

UBC Thunderbirds
UBC Coach Dean Murten

“There are so many opportunities we offer, that BC Rugby offers, Rugby Canada offers, and our schools offer. So many good things come from just picking up that ball.”


Rugby is beginning to thrive again in BC, with many schools and universities across BC (and Canada) offering strong Rugby programs that cater to all types of student athletes.

Murten believes it is a great sport for students to try. Rugby provides the support and opportunities not necessarily found in other sports, and it is a great way to meet new people.

“In our environment, education is absolutely critical. If you want to play some Rugby along the way, you’re going to be in a team environment straight away. You’re going to connect with like-minded people who want to have fun, play Rugby and be part of a team. That helps so much with academic advancement,” Murten said.

“As soon as you open the door, you’ve got 65 people all on the same page as you. People who love the game, who are there to get the academics and do the best they can on the field.”

Murten added: “You might not have the aspirations to play for Canada. You might just want to play Club Rugby and enjoy the values of the sport: the integrity, the friendships. We cater for people who want to go on to the Olympics or play for Canada, but we also cater for the high-school girl who might have only been playing for a year or two and says: ‘I really need to go to university because it’s very important to me, but I’d like Rugby along the way.’”

“There are so many opportunities we offer, that BC Rugby offers, Rugby Canada offers, and our schools offer. So many good things come from just picking up that ball.”

For more information and fixtures, visit the 2021 Canada West Championship website