It’s exciting enough to be preparing to play in a world-class tournament, but two members of Canada’s international women’s sevens rugby program have also been thrilled by the level of support they’ve seen in and around their adoptive hometown.
Scrum half Elissa Alarie and centre/wing Paige Farries, who are roommates in Colwood, get stopped regularly by well-wishers when they’re out wearing their national team gear.
“Anywhere from Langford, Colwood, View Royal and Victoria, it’s amazing,” Farries says. “If you’re wearing the Rugby Canada emblem, people will stop you and congratulate you for how your team did, or even how the men’s team is doing or the women’s 15s are doing. It’s a really incredible culture around here; people don’t need to ever have played rugby to be a supporter of the game.”
As the Canadian squad gets ready to host 11 of the world’s top teams for this weekend’s Canada Womens Sevens event at Langford’s Westhills Stadium, the players can feel the excitement building, both within their ranks and in the community, Alarie says.
“We get to train at great facilities like PISE and at the (Rugby Centre of Excellence in Langford), and so people see us a lot around town,” she says. “They’re often asking, ‘when can we see you play?’ And we’re always saying ‘well, we kind of play internationally, elsewhere.’ Now for the first time it’s nice to actually say we play coming up this weekend, so get your tickets. People are really excited to see us play, finally.”
The tournament kicks off tomorrow (April 18) with an 11 a.m. match between France and China. With these fast and furious matches over in 20 minutes, fans won’t have long to wait to see Canada’s first game, a 12:50 p.m. showdown with Russia.
Pool play happens all day Saturday, with the playoff quarter-finals set for Sunday starting at 10 a.m.
Alarie, a native of Trois-Rivières, Que., was among 12 players selected by head coach John Tait to play in the Langford tournament.
Farries, who was in the lineup for the recent Hong Kong Sevens tournament – where Canada defended its title for a second straight time, – won’t be on the pitch this weekend. Nonetheless, she and others not chosen remain very much part of Tait’s roster puzzle for upcoming events on the IRB Women’s World Series. “There’s always something to look forward to. We have a back-to-back tournament coming up in London and then in Amsterdam. We’re leaving for it two weeks after Langford, so it’s a really quick turnaround.”
Competing for tournament spots is a constant occurrence during training, Farries says. “Every day’s a tryout. The week or two weeks leading into the tournaments are trials, but every day you need to show up with 110 per cent and your full effort and full attention.”
Alarie is quick to point out the gap between the skill level of players in the sevens program has been narrowing through the season. “It’s a hard selection every time, because all the athletes have brought their game up so much,” she says. “It’s a good problem for a coach to have and it helps our top players to get even better.”
On the seemingly rare times when she and Farries are home, they split up the chores, more or less, with both doing some cooking. Asked whether she has introduced any Québecois cuisine to the household, Alarie says not really, but she is attempting to teach her roomie some French.
“Plus Paige is learning Spanish and so am I, with Rosetta Stone, so we try to keep our minds busy,” she says.
In almost typical Canadian style, the women’s team has been consistent through the first three rounds of the series, working its way into a tie with Australia for second place overall. The top four finishers automatically qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, when sevens rugby makes it debut.
While every one of the tournaments is meaningful, Alarie is excited for the team’s opportunity to thank local supporters through their play and showcase what they’ve been working on.
“I don’t think people know exactly how hard we train every day – we train six days out of seven – so it’ll be nice to be able tell people how hard we work and then to see the result; to win the cup.”