Team Canada provided plenty of excitement for longtime fans and newcomers alike during the inaugural Canada Women’s Sevens tournament last April at Westhills Stadium.
While a sixth-place finish wasn’t quite what the national team had in mind, Canada rebounded to post top results in subsequent events last year and placed second on the World Rugby Sevens Series, thus punching their ticket to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Heading into this weekend’s second edition of the tournament in Langford, the hosts sit third on the Series behind three-time 2016 winner Australia and New Zealand, following a fourth-place finish last weekend in Atlanta.
Team veteran Ashley Steacy, who remains sidelined with an injury and won’t play this weekend, said there were many lessons learned from last year’s tournament in Langford.
“I guess some of those would have been distraction control,” she said, noting that many players had family and friends in town to watch the games. “To have them in the crowd and cheering and that sort of thing, we had to kind of deal with that little bit of a different distraction. It came down to how to settle ourselves and prepare for games when there is that different kind of factor involved.”
Captain Jen Kish, whose formidable presence and slashing running style was missed here last April, looks forward to playing in front of the home fans in Langford.
Her friends and family came from Edmonton last time and didn’t get a chance to see her play.
“This time it’s the same people coming out,” Kish said. “It’s pretty exciting for me and I think it’s really exciting for them, because most of my family and friends have never seen me play live. It’s going to be a new experience for them and a new experience for me seeing them in the crowd cheering us on.”
On-field improvement noticeable, coach says
Head coach John Tait was impressed with his team’s efforts in Atlanta, where they went 3-0 the first day, beat Fiji in the first playoff match then lost by identical 26-14 scores to Australia in the semifinals and England in the bronze medal match.
Despite being without the services of key individuals such as Steacy, the team has still managed to maintain a high level of play.
“We’ve improved with every tournament,” Tait said. “The chance to play at home now and improve again on our performance is exciting for us, because each tournament is just another opportunity to help us prepare for Rio.”
Ontario native Britt Benn was among the players who didn’t make the trip to Atlanta due to injury, but said she feels ready to go this weekend, having been put back on the active roster for the Series.
“Injury is just the nature of the game; rugby’s a game of risks, it’s a very physical sport … it’s just how you bounce back from it,” she said. “I’m definitely excited to be put back in the selections and compete with this wonderful group of women.”
While she considers her fellow national team members like family, she admitted that working to gain a spot on Canada’s 12-player roster for a World Rugby Sevens event is always a challenge.
“We’re our own best competition. We train hard every day, we challenge each other and I think that’s important to have in your daily training environment.”
In terms of who presents the toughest test this weekend, Benn said Australia and New Zealand are always tough, but there’s also much parity. But Canada’s strategy is more about analyzing past tournaments and making adjustments from game to game, she said. As such, she wasn’t looking too far ahead.
Kish, whose sweet, sunny disposition off the field belies her imposing, heavily tattooed form on the pitch is optimistic about Canada’s chances of success in Langford.
“We have a lot of skill and talent and I think we’re still trying to unlock it all at once. So it’s pretty exciting when we’re all on together and we’re gelling, I think we’re unstoppable and we can create some magical rugby. That’s what I’m hoping that we do this weekend is create magic.”
Rugby weekend at a glance
• The Canada Women’s Sevens tournament runs April 16 and 17 at Westhills Stadium, Langford.
• Pool play matches, 20 minutes each, get underway at 11 a.m. Saturday with the last one ending about 7 p.m. Playoff round action starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, with the bronze medal match at 5:40 p.m. and the championship at 6:05.
Team Canada schedule:
April 16 — 11:22 a.m. vs Japan; 2:14 p.m. vs. Ireland; 4:44 p.m. vs England
• Tickets are available online at canadasevens.com/womens. They may also be available at the gate.