Canadian women believe they can challenge at Women’s Rugby World Cup this summer

Canadian women look for World Cup success

TORONTO — The Canadian women’s rugby team starts 2017 believing a world championship is within its reach.

For the only one of Rugby Canada’s four senior teams that isn’t centralized, it seems a bold goal. But Francois Ratier’s 15s squad, runner-up three years ago at the Women’s Rugby World Cup, has battled England for No. 2 in the world rankings in recent months and will get an early crack at top-ranked New Zealand at the World Cup this August in Ireland.

“I completely believe in this team and what we can do,” said captain Kelly Russell, who helped Canada to Olympic bronze in sevens play last summer. “And I believe that we could come out winning the World Cup, for sure.

“We’re always looking to keep raising the bar and keep pushing ourselves to be the best rugby players, the best team that we can be. And we also want to push it for women’s rugby. You’re seeing that across the globe now. Every tournament, every Test match, everything’s getting quicker, faster, stronger, more physical. And that’s exciting.”

The Canadians started 2016 ranked sixth in the world and climbed as high as No. 2 before finishing the year third after a 4-2-0 campaign that featured victories over No. 2 England, No. 4 France, No. 5 Ireland and the eighth-ranked United States. Canada lost to England and No. 1 New Zealand during an awkwardly scheduled November tour that saw them play three games in a week.

Overall, Ratier’s team outscored the opposition 178-98 and ran in 25 tries last year.

Ratier saw positives in the 20-10 loss to New Zealand and the 39-6 defeat by a rested England that came three days later. Canada created chances but failed to execute on some occasions.

“The (lack of) execution obviously is a bit linked to fatigue, but also to some lack of skills under pressure that we need to work on during the winter. The good (news) is that opportunities were there.” 

Unlike the men’s 15s team and both the men’s and women’s sevens squads, Ratier’s team is spread across the country, from New Brunswick to Victoria although some have temporarily moved to the West Coast to find strength in numbers. Ratier, whose coaching gig is part-time, holds workouts four days a week in Montreal for Quebec-based players.

“That’s what it takes. We need to be professional, without being professional,” he said.

Russell, for example, was a full-time rugby player when she was with the sevens team during the last Olympic cycle. Now she works as a residential facility assistant at Brentwood College School in Mill Bay, B.C., when not training. 

“It’s definitely been a challenge … but at the same time it’s a bit of balance,” she said.

The November tour was just the second for the women that didn’t involve them chipping in to pay for it.

The domestic-based Canadian 15s men were only centralized in 2016. Rugby Canada hopes to centralize the women’s 15s but there is not enough money at present. Russell believes even a few months of full-time training would pay dividends.

“It’s just so important for us to be playing together all the time, creating those bonds both on the field and off the field,” she said.

Ratier says centralization is essential if Canada is to move up the rankings and stay there.

“We are here but for how long?” asks Ratier. “That’s the real question.”

England is fully professional, mixing its sevens and 15s talent pool. France is offering its players semi-pro contracts.

Ratier will not get his players back together until mid-March for a five-day camp in B.C. featuring his top 35 players. He will then cut the roster down to 26 for a pair of games against the U.S. in San Diego.

Ratier will fly into B.C. to work with players there on several occasions before the team heads to New Zealand in June for games against Australia (ranked sixth in the world), England and the host Black Ferns.

The Canadian coach looks forward to meeting England when the teams will be on the same schedule.

“We’ll see where they are,” he said, relishing the chance.

Ratier clearly has a long memory.

“I have, when it hurts,” he said. “I’m like an elephant.”

The Canadian women will leave for Dublin at the end of July for a weeklong camp before the Aug. 9 start of the World Cup, which runs through Aug. 29.

Canada is in a pool with New Zealand, No. 10 Wales and No. 23 Hong Kong.

The early clash with the Black Ferns represents a significant hurdle, given only the three pool winners and the best second-place team advance to the semifinals of the 12-team tournament. There is no room for error, with Ratier seeing the New Zealand game as a de facto quarter-final.

Ratier reclaimed Russell, Karen Paquin, Elissa Alarie and Magali Harvey from the sevens program after Rio but does not expect any more reinforcements in advance of the World Cup.

He had identified three others but says “I know it won’t happen.”

“My job is to improve and maximize the strength we have right now in the team,” he said, citing the current 40-woman 15s pool.

There is talent and experience in a balanced squad, which features a hard-nosed pack, speed in the backline and the ability to play several ways. Ratier also likes the chemistry.

“Our strength is our collective,” he said. “We’re a real team — people are playing for each other.”


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.



Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Omnibus zoning bylaw sent for revisions to prevent blanket upzoning in downtown Victoria

More than 10 downtown properties identified by Downtown Residents Association

Proposed public art installation sparks debate in Victoria

$250,000 sculpture compliments an interactive sound element of First Nations drumming and singing

Christmas at McTavish Market gets bigger

Visitors of McTavish Market on the corner of McTavish and East Saanich… Continue reading

#MeToo at work: Employers play a role in fixing culture of harassment

B.C. workplaces are getting ahead of being the next MeToo debacle, calling on experts to train staff

Sooke Christmas hampers to be handed out Sunday

Over 400 hampers have already been prepared

Owl found dead after eating rat poison leaves B.C. woman concerned

After finding the owl on her Surrey property, Christine Trozzo says the poison is a concern for kids

Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

Shelbourne Community Kitchen vies for $20,000 prize

Epicure Foundation, based in North Saanich, will give five groups $20,000 each

Woman in Nanaimo accidentally hands over diamond ring with spare change

Incident happened Wednesday at about 7 p.m. at parking lot near Nanaimo’s boardwalk

B.C. woman brain injured in crash as a baby gets $1.1 million in damages

Trial heard the woman was 16 months old, being carried by her mother when they were both hit

Victoria cycling advocate makes pitch lor lower speeds on local roads

Group points to evidence suggesting 30 km/h speed limit would save money, lives

Optimistic Victoria whale watching company invests in new vessel

Banner 2017 tourist season helps Prince of Whales decide to boost service

Court denies WestJet’s bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit of former worker

Mandalena Lewis is suing WestJet over allegations of gender-based discrimination

Most Read