Canadian rugby sevens women let play do the...
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Jun 13, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Canadian rugby sevens women let play do the talking

Canada and U.S. favoured to meet for Pan Am gold in multi-sport debut of sevens version

OurWindsor.Ca

Ghislaine Landry plays big. She has no choice. At five-foot-four, she’s been told —repeatedly — that she’s too short and too light for the rough sport of rugby.

“I choose to prove them wrong,” the 27-year-old said.

This season she was the top scorer in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, helped Canada qualify for the Olympic debut of the sport in Rio, and was instrumental in the team’s first-ever tournament win in Amsterdam last month.

So, that shows them, doesn’t it?

“A little bit.”

Quiet success, it seems, is more Landry’s style than shouting from the rafters. That’s a lot like the team itself. They have become one of the best in the world at this fast-growing and fast-paced version of rugby while, mostly, flying under the radar here at home.

The Pan Am Games team, announced Wednesday, has several standouts — captain Jen Kish, Ashley Steacy and Landry among them — but with just seven players to cover the entire pitch, teamwork and a shared vision of the game is vital. The players, who live and train year-round in Victoria, are particularly close and say that’s an advantage.

“The effort that everybody puts in is amazing because, on this team, you want to do it for the person beside you,” said 19-year-old Hannah Darling, the youngest player named to the Pan Am squad.

While continued success is what they all want for the person beside them, (and, no doubt, just a little bit for themselves) a step towards achieving that in Toronto next month may have come from one of their biggest failures.

In April, at a heavily promoted tournament in the Victoria suburb of Langford, B.C. – the home of Canadian rugby – the squad finished a disappointing sixth, their worst result of the world series season.

“There was a lot of hype and we slipped up,” head coach John Tait said, noting the pressure of playing in front of family and friends got to them. “There were a lot of good individual performances, but we didn’t click as a team.”

They’ll face even more pressure and distractions here in Toronto, but this time they say they’ll be ready for it.

The two-day Pan Am tournament runs alongside the men’s competition over the first weekend, marking the debut of women’s sevens in a multi-sport Games. With the Olympics only a year away, it’s an important opportunity for Rugby Canada to draw attention to the sport, which is obsessively followed in other parts of the world but not here at home.

Since Canada and the U.S. are the only Pan Am entries ranked in the top six worldwide, the Canadians will be expected to make it to the gold medal match and, with the home crowd cheering, win it.

“There’s a lot of hype going around a home tournament and everybody talks about it beforehand . . . but until you actually go through it, I don’t think any kind of preparation will really prepare you for that,” said Landry, who hails from Toronto.

“Sometimes when you win you don’t take the time to reflect. We learned some lessons the hard way, but hopefully they’ll benefit us in July.”

The Langford tournament is team shorthand for mistakes made and not to be repeated. The Amsterdam competition, which came a month later, is the reverse — not just because they won, but how.

“We’ve lost some games — big games — in the last minute a few too many times,” Landry said.

In the Amsterdam final against Australia, it seemed possible that was how the story would end again, as the teams traded the lead back and forth. Canada trailed with just a minute and half to go. Then, Landry evaded several defenders and scored the try that put Canada in the lead. On the next play, team captain Kish made sure they kept it.

It was a perfect way to end the season and keep confidence high, Magali Harvey said.

Harvey, who plays both sevens and 15-a-side rugby, worked her way back onto the sevens team after being dropped earlier in the season. She is best known for her spectacular try at the rugby 15s World Cup in Paris last year. In a tense semifinal, with the Canadians in trouble in a scrum on their own try line, her teammates managed to free the ball and she ran 90 metres, dodging French players along the way, to score.

It made sports highlight reels all over the country and, overnight, Harvey became the face of women’s rugby in Canada.

That try showed the Quebec City native has the speed for sevens, but she struggled with the tactics and didn’t always make the best decisions on the pitch. At the same time, other players — there are some 24 training full-time in Victoria, with only 12 named to each tournament team — were improving.

“I had to step it up if I wanted to keep making selections,” Harvey said. “It was a good wakeup call.”

Now, with the team-wide wakeup call in Langford to draw on, this team is looking to win Pan Am gold and get the nation excited about rugby before Rio.

Three Canadians to watch

Jen Kish

The 26-year-old captain from Edmonton is one of the best female sevens players in the world. She’s back after a knee injury and her superior tackling, power with the ball and leadership on and off the field are important for the team.

Ghislaine Landry

The high-scoring 27-year-old from Toronto led the world rugby sevens series in points, amassing 301 in six tournaments. She’s a difference-maker, well-placed to finish off tries set up for her, but also able to create her own opportunities.

Ashley Steacy

The 27-year-old sevens veteran from Lethbridge, Alta., had her first national team cap in 2007 and was just named player of the year by Rugby Canada. A strong scorer and defender she’s also a key decision maker during matches.

Also named: Britt Benn Napanee, Ont.; Hannah Darling, Lakefield, Ont.; Bianca Farella, Montreal; Magali Harvey, Quebec City; Sara Kaljuvee, Ajax; Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake, B.C.; Karen Pacquin, Quebec City; Kelly Russell, Bolton, Ont.; and Natasha Watcham-Roy Gatineau, Que.

Toronto Star

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