It’s one first that will remain elusive.
Canada had a very real chance Sunday to become the first home side to win a tournament in the World Rugby HSBC Womens Sevens Series. The series-leading New Zealand Black Ferns had something to say about that, however, and dominated the Langford-based team, clinching the series title with a 19-7 win in the Cup final at Westhills Stadium.
Having come so close to beating New Zealand in the previous series tournament in Japan, Sunday’s contest proved frustrating for the Canadians.
“It was not the performance that we wanted and not the result that we wanted,” said team captain Ghislaine Landry. “I think when we’re performing we’re the best team in the world … we didn’t really find our stride like we did last tournament.”
— Goldstream News (@GoldstreamNews) May 29, 2017
New Zealand started strong and kept up the momentum, building a 12-0 lead by the three-minute mark on tries by Tyla Nathan-Wong and Michaela Blyde.
Canada got back into the game three minutes later when Julia Greenshields sprinted through the middle of the field to drop a try down between the posts. Landry converted to cut the Kiwis’ lead to 12-7.
But the second half was played mostly in Canada’s end. While the women in red came up with some huge stops, they were hard pressed to sustain any forward movement with New Zealand playing superb defensively.
“Most breakdowns we had a turnover and if you can’t get the ball out it’s just hard to play,” Landry said. “Sevens is a game of possession and we lost a lot of possession off the breakdowns.”
Alena Saili added a corner try near the end of the match to round out the scoring.
Despite their continued dominance on the circuit, the win was anything but routine for Nathan-Wong.
“We just had faith in each other, we trusted each other, stayed connected on defence and at the end of the day it came down to hard work and manners, as we like to say,” she said, after posing for fan pictures with teammates and the cup.
Team Canada head coach John Tait said the final came down to pace.
“New Zealand are the series champions, they’re a tough team to beat and they’re pretty relentless, they know how to play the game at that tempo and they beat us at that in the final,” he said. While the majority of penalty calls went against Canada in the match, Tait noted that his team needed to adjust more quickly to the calls as they were being made.
Asked about his team’s chances of becoming the first team to win on home soil, he joked, “The hurdle before the tournament was to do better than fifth or sixth place, and now it’s winning it, so I guess we’re moving in the right direction.”
With one stop left on the series, in Clermont, France, Canada sits tied for second with Australia, who they beat 17-10 in the afternoon’s semifinal.
Canada found itself chasing New Zealand and Australia for much of last season, Landry said, so for the team to be where it is right now, competing well against the two traditional rugby powers, is a “big positive” for Canadian rugby.
Once again the weekend attracted thousands of fans to the stadium, some in colourful costumes, but the majority donned Canadian red and white. While they saved their loudest cheers for their home country, they treated other teams with the utmost respect and admiration.
— Goldstream News (@GoldstreamNews) May 28, 2017
After visiting with a cluster of family members in town for the weekend, Canada’s Brittany Benn sounded positive about playing the Kiwis hard and having one last chance to beat them on the series.
“It’s definitely a good feeling when the gaps are so close … Sevens is a game of inches and it’s only 14 minutes, so at the end of the day, it’s the team that makes the least amount of errors that’s going to win,” she said. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board, look at the film and see where we went wrong and hopefully take it to them in France.”
Canada went 3-0 on Saturday then hammered England 33-5 in the Sunday morning quarter-final. The win over Australia saw them rebound from a 5-0 deficit with three straight tries, from Landry, Greenshields and a brilliant 80-metre run down the sideline by speedster Charity Williams.
New Zealand beat France 28-5 in the other semifinal, then Australia downed France for the bronze medal.