Women in sport: Acadia grad has a love affair with rugby, playing on international stage

Jennifer Hoegg
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An Acadia alumna is using what she learned as a varsity athlete on the international field.

Andrea Burk is competing this month with the Canadian senior women’s team at the IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup in Marcoussis, France. After two wins and a tie in pool play, including a tough 13-13 draw with England, the Canadians will face the host team Aug. 13 in semifinal action.

“We felt really strong in our performance against England and we know we have more to give,” the 32-year-old British Columbia native said after the Aug. 9 game.  

“So far this tournament, we have been recovering well between games and I have no doubt that we will bring the same level of intensity and preparedness to the next game.”

Burk has been with the national team since 2009, winning her first cap in France that year. Keen to secure more wins on French soil, the five-foot-seven, 160-pound winger has already made a contribution to the senior squad at this tournament, earning seven points in the Canada’s 42-7 victory over Samoa. 

“We knew we had to get points on the board because the competition is quite tight,” Burk said.  

It was the team’s second victory of the competition after a 31-5 win over Spain earlier in the tournament. 

“One person goes forward and another person goes forward and it’s contagious. It’s so exhilarating,” she said of the feeling on the pitch. 

“As exhausted as we are, as hot as it is in France, you see your teammate make a big run or a big hit you want to get in on it.”

It won’t be an easy victory for whichever team makes it to the cup final. Burk said the field is “very, very competitive.” 


Coaching beyond the pitch

While studying kinesiology, Burk played first for the Axewomen soccer squad before switching to the rugby pitch for her final two years in Wolfville, earning the Atlantic University Sport most valuable player title in both 2004 and 2005.

After graduation, Burk worked abroad and then played club and provincial rugby in B.C., home to Rugby Canada’s Centre of Excellence in Langford. She says her days playing in Wolfville had “a big impact” on her life.

“Being in the Valley was a fantastic experience,” she said.

“I loved playing rugby at Acadia. That was the team that you learned to play through your heart. We’re always so determined and you play for the person next to you.”

Before university, Burk said she “dabbled in rugby,” but once she changed up her main sport, she didn’t look back.

“(Rugby is) a really exciting and empowering sport and we want to share it with the world,” she said.


Learning and leading

With her career in organizational leadership, Burk says she “has come full circle,” from her student-athlete days.

The entrepreneur, who has master of arts in leadership, is a coach of a different sort, working “with organizations and leadership to help build a high performing culture.”

Burk said she has grown through sport as an athlete as a person.

“Being on a rugby team, that success has to come from the whole team. One person can’t win a game. Every single person on the team contributes to the success one way or another.”

Game pressure has helped Burk learn who she is and when she performs her best, she said.

 “I want to help people with that in their life or with their business groups.”


Atlantic growth

Burk’s four fellow AUS alumnae on the team are all former St. F.X. players: lead scorer Magali Harvey, Olivia DeMerchant, Tyson Beukeboom and Amanda Thornborough.

When she was playing, Burk said Atlantic university ruggers were rarely noticed by the national program. Her MVP award gave her name recognition, but national coaches and scouts had only seen St. F.X players who had made it through to the CIS.

That is changing: Axewoman Maddie MacDonald was chosen for the Under-20 team this summer, for example.

With a national training centre in B.C., there are more development opportunities for players, Burk said, and a higher profile for the sport.

An Acadia teammate of Burk’s agrees.

"In any sport moving onto the next level takes more than talent. Exposure to coaches, tournaments and the right people makes players identified at younger ages and athletes more likely to up to the next level,” Michelle Mosher, an Axewoman alumna now working in Alberta and playing club rugby, says.

 “There are many Nova Scotia female rugby players who could have gone onto the international stage. Fortunately, now it appears as though girls are getting this exposure earlier allowing them to be seen at the right time.

“Hopefully, we will be cheering for them on TV,” she added.

The visibility of women’ rugby has exploded over the last few years, Burk said.

 “The girls here are just thrilled about it to have TSN broadcasting our games. It’s something I’ve never imagined growing up,” Burk said, adding people have sent the Canada players photos of them watching the games on TV.

“(The) support goes a long way in pushing us on the field.”

 Read more about Burk’s experience at the IRB World Cup at KingsCountyNews.ca.


Tournament schedule


Canada 31- Spain 5– Aug. 1

Canada 42 - Samoa 7– Aug. 5

Canada 13   - England 13 – Aug. 9

Semifinal 1 – England vs Ireland - Aug. 13 at 12:45 p.m. ADT on TSN

Semifinal 2 – Canada vs France - Aug. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ADT on TSN

Finals – Aug. 17 at 1:30 p.m. ADT on TSN2


Weblink www.rugbycanada.ca

Organizations: IRB Women, Atlantic University Sport, Langford.

Geographic location: France, England, Canada Marcoussis British Columbia Wolfville Samoa Spain Alberta Nova Scotia Ireland

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