As volunteers removed banners and stripped away evidence of the Canada Women’s Sevens international rugby tournament at Westhills Stadium, people at Rugby Canada headquarters were talking about same time, same place, next year.
“The most impressive part of this entire weekend was how the community rallied behind this tournament,” said Rugby Canada communications manager Bryan Kelly, noting that approximately 6,500 fans packed the stadium to watch the 12 best teams in the world play over two days.
The festival atmosphere helped make Westhills Stadium the place to be, he said.
“There was blue skies, music was going, good food, good showcasing of rugby, fans are going nuts, lots of flags. I think people are interested in rugby sevens and supporting our national teams and it was just a great weekend.”
Canada’s sixth-place finish, the result of a 19-12 loss to the U.S. in the Plate final on Sunday, was not the hoped-for result, although it did leave the team alone in second after four of six rounds on the Women’s Sevens Series. The loss did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the fans, who stuck around to watch England beat France 19-7 for third place and New Zealand take its fourth straight title, 29-10 over Russia.
The support shown for the Canadians specifically and the tournament in general was impressive, said Avan Lee, general manager for sevens with World Rugby, the international governing body for the sport.
“To be honest, we were expecting it to be really good and I think we’ve been overwhelmed by how good it’s been,” he said. “We’re absolutely thrilled with how it’s gone and look forward to building this relationship in future.”
He stopped short of saying Rugby Canada and Langford had been awarded this event for subsequent years. He explained that unlike the men’s series, for which venues are confirmed several years in advance, the Women’s Sevens Series has tended to go on a year-to-year basis, given the major commitment required from national associations and the host communities.
But considering how well the tournament and its accompanying events went here, there’s no reason to believe Langford couldn’t host the event again, he said.
“It’s very encouraging for how rugby has, in the last two or three years, really grown in this part of the world. I (credit) Rugby Canada and how they’ve implemented their high-performance structure – they’ve got some amazing athletes as well and now they’re competing on a world stage. I think they deserve the tournament, and in terms of just looking at this weekend, they’ll be able to host for as long as they want, really, cause it’s been fantastic.”
Players and officials from the other teams loved staying here, which is important, he said. “And if they’re well-fed and well-housed, they enjoy walking around the city; then it helps a huge amount for the weekend in terms of how they play the game. We want the athletes to enjoy themselves, but also be ready to play at a world-class level.”
Mike Chu, Rugby Canada general manager for rugby operations and performance, called the tournament “outstanding” from an event-hosting perspective.
“There’ll be no doubt after this weekend that World Rugby (will want to) back here,” he said. “Everything just ran really well. The community’s got right behind it – the schools, the Greater Victoria area, the City of Langford – have been amazing. It’s been fantastic support.”
Scheduling the final two matches for the B.C. high school girls’ sevens championships during breaks in the international event was another way to connect communities with the women’s program and the sport itself, he said.
“It’s a great way to do it, because what you’re doing is all these young players that aspire to the national team get to play a tournament and come down and watch their heroes play, and for some of them they get to play in front of a big crowd.”
While the past week proved successful from an organizational perspective, hosting matches on the Women’s Sevens Series will no doubt provide some learning experiences for head coach John Tait and his squad, who train regularly in Langford and at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence in Saanich.
“What will they take away? I think there’s probably been some good learnings for the whole team in terms of this (being) their first time at home, coping with the distractions,” Chu said. “There’s more media around, they’re playing in front of friends and family. I think it’ll be great learning (experience) for the Pan-Am Games in Toronto (this summer).”
Team Canada heads out in a couple of weeks to prepare for the final two Series tournaments, set for May 15-16 in London, England and May 22-23 in Amsterdam. The top four finishers on the series automatically qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.