Canada team captain Ghislaine Landry carries the ball during action at the Sydney Womens Sevens tournament in Australia. Langford’s Westhills Stadium plays host this weekend to the Canada Womens Sevens event on the World Rugby Women Sevens Series. Photo by Ian Muir/Rugby Canada

Canada’s rugby women look for opportunity to best powerful Kiwis

Canada Womens Sevens rugby promises exciting weekend in Langford

Not that Canada hasn’t always been among the rugby elite in the unique sub-sport of sevens. But this year the Langford-based side is taking their game to a new level.

Heading into this weekend’s Canada Women’s Sevens tournament on home turf at Westhills Stadium, the penultimate event on the six-stop World Rugby HSBC Womens Sevens Series, the Canadians sit third – two points back of Australia and 12 back of perennial leader New Zealand Black Ferns.

The season has included a tournament win in Sydney in February, followed by a third-place effort in Las Vegas and a silver after a narrow loss to the Kiwis in the final in Japan last month.

Head coach John Tait, whose charges opened the sevens series with a sixth-place finish before the victory Down Under, said the team has been “getting a little better” as the season has progressed.

“I’m really happy with the way we’ve finished off the last few tournaments. We’ve built really well and been executing well and we’re playing the game at a higher pace than we really ever have before,” he said. The development of younger players is adding to the depth of the program, he added.

Beating New Zealand has been an elusive goal to date for Canada, but they’re getting closer. The final in Japan saw the Canadians lead for much of the second half, but give up a last-minute try in a 17-14 loss.

“They’ve been our bogey side for a couple of years now; they’re a good team,” Tait said. “For us, we’ve got to shift our mentality and stop thinking about them and really just be focusing on ourselves. We’ve lived by the motto the last few tournaments, ‘it’s not who we play, it’s how we play.’”

Bianca Farella, among Canada’s leaders in caps with 118 in sevens play, agreed.

“We’re just as fit as them and the skill levels are the same. I think it’s just a matter of being smart,” she said. “Good teams are going to capitalize on mistakes. In Japan we only lost because we lost possession with 30 seconds left in the game, giving them a set piece in their 22.”

Canada opens play in Pool B this Saturday (May 27) against Brazil at 12:20 p.m., followed by matches against France (3:04 p.m.) and Russia (5:48 p.m). New Zealand and Australia head up the A and C pools, respectively. The playoff rounds get underway Sunday morning, with the top two in each pool plus the two best third-place finishers qualifying for the Cup quarter-finals.

“In Japan we had such a phenomenal tournament, all 12 of us played so well. It’s just really rare that all 12 of us play so well on the same weekend of the year … it’s remarkable to see how far these girls have come well since the Olympic Games,” Farella said.

Given the season they’ve had, the Canadian women are treating the Langford tournament as “our pinnacle event of the year,” she said. “It’s always a very special feeling playing at home in front of familiar fans that you see sometimes on a daily basis, and sometimes they come out just to support us on this special weekend.”

Team captain Ghislaine Landry knows well how one game can alter the numbers given the Series playoff format. Last year in Langford, Canada lost just one match, a nailbiter to France in the quarter-finals, yet finished fifth overall.

“We were on really good form that weekend, so things could have been very different quite easily,” she said Tuesday after practice. “It’s been a good season so far and we know what we’re capable of, so the biggest goal is to stay on task and stay focused and the rest of it takes care of itself for us.”

Last year was an intense one with the Olympics thrown into the mix, Landry said. This year, as younger players have been integrated onto the roster, the team has found its stride sooner – the win in Sydney was the earliest series victory ever for Canada.

“We’re having a great year we’re having a lot of fun and that helps,” she said. “It’s a really good mix of experience and youth and I think that’s why we’ve been doing really well.”

Despite playing on their home turf, the Canadian team will treat this tournament like any other, keeping the routines the same, staying in a local hotel, eating meals together and busing to the stadium.

“We try to make it as if we’re on tour, as if we’re in another country and make everything familiar, because routine is so important in our day-to-day,” Farella said. “I feel like if I was at home I would be worrying about doing laundry.”

Charity Williams, a speedy young back who was working her way into the lineup at last year’s Langford tournament, has been a mainstay for the team this season, scoring 10 tries in 24 World Series matches.

Not surprisingly, the home tournament is her favourite of the six-stop series.

“The one thing I love about playing in Langford is you get to play in front of your family and friends and everyone really wants to be a part of what’s happening here, they want to be a part of your journey,” she said. “The cool thing is that the field is so close to the stands that you can hear people actually calling your name and really giving you all their attention.”

Personally, Williams feels she’s developed more this season with more playing time, and tries to set a good example for other young players coming up through the program, like Oak Bay High product Caroline Crossley.

“I’m just coming to training every day and doing what I can for the team, just doing my job and hopefully that shows on the field.”

To purchase tickets ahead of time, visit events.rugbycanada.ca, or for a full schedule go to rugbycanada.ca and click on Women’s 7s.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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