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.
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.”
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.”
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.