Canadian women's rugby sevens team looks to...
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Feb 16, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Canadian women's rugby sevens team looks to improve Olympic draw

Going into a tournament in Sao Paolo this weekend, Canada hopes to earn a top-three seed at the Rio Olympics

OurWindsor.Ca

Women’s rugby sevens, a sport that will make its Olympic debut in Rio in August, got off to an unusual start this season.

New Zealand and Canada — who were the top two teams last year — came away from the opening world series tournament in Dubai in December without even winning a medal.

That’s how quickly things can change in sevens, the shorter, faster and more unpredictable version of rugby that was included for men and women in Rio. (The last time rugby was in the Olympics was 1924 and it was men-only in the traditional 15-player game.)

Team injuries played a part in those upsets, especially for the Canadians who were missing half their regular roster, but it’s also a sign of the increasing strength of other nations in this all-important Olympic year.

“There’s no doubt that the standard goes up every tournament,” said John Tait, Canada’s women’s sevens head coach.

“The games are closer across the board, there’s very rarely the 45-point blowout that we saw even last year or the year before. Teams are learning how to stay in the fight.”

This weekend in Sao Paulo, the top international women’s teams will meet again for the second of the five tournaments they have to hone their skills and measure up their competitors before the Olympics.

With the return of Ghislaine Landry, Bianca Farella, Hannah Darling and Sara Kaljuvee the Canadians are in a better position.

“We’ll be a faster team and the skill level will be up from where we were in Dubai,” Tait said.

But the Canadians are still down several veteran players including Ashley Steacy and Magali Harvey, who was in Dubai, has been benched for Sao Paulo with an ankle injury picked up in training.

“It’s a bit of a shuffle again,” Tait said of the team lineup. “You won’t see our full strength until probably the last couple series events.”

The Canadians need a better result in Sao Paulo than their sixth-place finish in Dubai to move up the ranking and earn a top-three seeding, which ensures a better draw early on in the three-day Olympic tournament.

But the players also want to show Canadians what they can do.

This team thinks it can win gold in Rio — something that captain Jen Kish isn’t shy to say — and what better place to start that winning trend than on Brazilian soil.

“We’ve always had this really strong self-belief in our abilities and our cohesiveness as a team,” Kish said.

“I’m really confident that we’ll do well in Brazil.”

Key players are back from injury, they’ve just finished a hard training phase so their fitness level is high and they’re a more adaptable team after the lessons learned in Dubai, she said.

“(Dubai) was not the opening that we wanted,” agreed teammate Kelly Russell.

“But we have to remember that success isn’t linear. We’re going to have ups and downs. It’s good to get those things out now so we learn from them and build and closer to the Olympics we’re on the right track,” the team veteran from Bolton, Ont., said.

The Canadian women qualified for Rio on the strength of their second-place ranking last season. The Canadian men, who were ninth last season, have one last chance to qualify for Rio in a June tournament in Monaco.

Toronto Star

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