Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team opted for the school of hard knocks ahead of this weekend’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Langford, BC
And not the usual ones associated with a physical sport. What the team received from a series of exhibitions this summer against top-ranked Australia were lessons in tactics and play that the organization believes will only help Canada in the long run.
“We’re really striving to improve on our performance from last year, and playing against the best teams in the world is really what we’re here to do,” said Olivia Apps, who will serve as captain when Canada plays in a five-a-side. -Team ticket with Mexico, Saint Lucia, Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The top two teams will meet in Sunday’s final, with the winner earning a place in next summer’s Paris Olympics. CBC Sports has live coverage beginning August 19 at 1:30 p.m. ET.
“Every time we play Australia it’s super competitive,” Apps said. “They’re really challenging on both sides of the ball and I’m very thankful they’re here.”
Australia finished second in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this season, seven places ahead of Canada. Hong Kong and Japan also participated in the friendly series.
Canadian coach Jack Hanratty said the games were key for his team ahead of this weekend’s qualifier because they provided a competitive atmosphere, but without the stifling pressure of high-stakes tournaments.
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Hanratty thinks that’s especially important as the team has fielded different line-ups for most of the season, partly due to injury but also a change in development philosophy that saw players transfer between the seven-and-a-half squad. the national team of 15 years.
“It allowed us to have the pressure of opposing teams, but it also allowed us to learn without the pressure of where you end up in a tournament,” Hanratty said. “We wanted to get the gaming performance, but that didn’t necessarily mean that [it] It was a win at all costs, and that really allowed us to grow.”
Growth is a key part of the sport, particularly on the women’s side. Australian coach Tim Walsh saw the time in Canada as beneficial not only for the development of his team, but also for the sport in general.
“Ultimately, the better the opposition, the better we are,” Walsh said. “Every team wants to win, so there’s that balance of maintaining a competitive advantage, but also growing the game.”
“I think the Australian team, most of them, have been playing Sevens rugby specifically for a long time,” said Canadian Sophie De Goede, who has been part of the cross-pollination between 15s where she serves as captain. and the sevens, which depend less on physical volume and more on external speed. “They have a very good feel for the game.
“So watching them play and reviewing the games has been a big challenge for us, and we just want to keep learning every time we go out there.”
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For Apps, who is one of three Canadian players this weekend who competed in Tokyo two years ago, earning the opportunity to compete in Tokyo is number 1 on his list of priorities. But the 24-year-old from Lindsay, Ontario sees a greater good in the experience. She hopes the visibility of her and her teammates will make the game much more accessible to girls growing up in Canada.
“For me, growing up playing rugby, there were a few female rugby players I can think of, the Kelly Russells, Steph De Goedes [Sophie’s mother] and other legends of the game, but they are very few,” he said. “And now to be able to walk out of a field and see hundreds of little girls, little boys who see us, know our faces, watch our games. .. is, honestly, literally the reason I do this.
“To give them someone to look up to so they can take my boots one day and walk in the fields.”
De Goede, 24, never had to look far for that inspiration, as he and his mother, father and brother represented Canada on the rugby fields. She views the growth of the game as an ongoing project.
“We want to grow the game,” he said. “So to have the opportunity to put on the Canadian jersey and hopefully make rugby a better known sport in Canada, and more young women and children playing, I think that’s why we ended up doing it in the long run. , is for more people to join our incredible support and community.”
It is what Walsh also expects from Australia.
“I think these women are really changing and reshaping not just women’s sport, but rugby as well,” Walsh said, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips.
“Rugby has always been a barbaric sport played by gentlemen, and now it’s a barbaric sport played by women.”