LANGFORD, B.C. — After more than a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Canada’s women’s sevens rugby team will entertain world-class competition at its home training ground this weekend.
Canada is in Pool A of the HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens event in Langford along with world No. 1-ranked Australia, Spain and Mexico.
Canadian coach Jack Hanratty says it will be world’s best post-Olympic gathering of teams after the pandemic took its toll on numerous competitions.
“These are all the best core teams. On Saturday night, at home, we get to play against the No. 1-ranked team in the world,” Hanratty said of facing Australia. “That’s the exact competition we want to have right now.
"We want to perform in front of our home crowd, we want to get wins, but we want to see where we are in terms of against the world’s best.”
Ireland, France, Brazil and Japan form Pool B and England, the United States, Fiji and New Zealand make up Pool C.
Canada's clash with the Aussies follows Saturday matches against Spain and Mexico. Quarterfinals, semifinals and the championship match are set for Sunday. Games are just 14 minutes in duration.
The tournament comes a week after Canada, which added young talent to the mix following an eighth-place showing at the Tokyo Olympics, qualified for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in South Africa by winning the RAN Sevens Qualifiers in Nassau, Bahamas.
Canada blanked Mexico 33-0 in the final in Nassau and Hanratty and Co. hope to carry that momentum onto the Starlight Stadium pitch, where upwards of 5,000 fans can attend.
“Realistically, we wanted to play against different countries. We did that," he said. "We had a job to do. Our job was to qualify for the World Cup – we did that.
"Not only that, we were impressive in certain elements of the game and that allowed us to not only have cohesion with the playing group, but also momentum coming into this tournament."
Hanratty just recently had his interim coach position extended for another eight months, taking the women’s team through the World Cup.
Long-time coach John Tait, who led Canada to bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down a year ago in the wake of a complaint filed by 37 current and former team members. When Hanratty took over he was the fourth coach in the span of a year.
“It’s a new franchise, what that allows you to do is re-prove yourself into things that you’re good at and you also have an opportunity to say, 'You know what, I’ve never missed a tackle playing for this new franchise,'" Hanratty said. "So, we’re going into this as we are a new group, a new team, that’s shown a bit of cohesion with the ability to go in after winning a tournament."
The chance to play Australia, which can sew up the six-tournament HSBC Rugby Sevens series title with a berth in this weekend’s championship game, is a bonus.
“It’s what dreams are made of. That’s what movies are written about,” Hanratty said of facing the Wallabies. “The home team getting to play against the No. 1-ranked team in the world. They are the best team in the world.
“RAN 7 last week was excellent, we got some wins, we got to win the tournament, but we want to know exactly where we fit in terms of rankings in the world. On Saturday night we will have a better understanding of where we are right now and hopefully that will be into a quarter-final come Sunday.”
The Canadian team is excited about playing at home in Langford once again.
“It’s amazing to be able to look up into the crowd and see my former coaches and teammates and see where we train every single day is awe inspiring,” said Pamphinette Buisa, who played at the University of Victoria.
“It’s good to feel semi-normal. Everybody has been expecting it and everybody is just hungry for rugby. To come back and celebrate rugby – celebrate the joy and love of it and to have community, once again,” she said.
“What we saw through this pandemic is the importance of honing into and leaning into community. Having that opportunity once again and be able to showcase that back here, on home turf, is going to be amazing for all of us.”
The feeling is the same for Olympian Bianca Farella, a veteran for Canada.
“It’s so exciting to be coming back to the sport, playing at home in Langford Sevens. We train here day-in and day-out, so this feels very natural to be here,” she said. “What we’re most looking forward to is the fans and the energy we can get from the crowd.”
Farella said maintaining possession and control will be key for Canada.
"It’s all about game management this weekend," she said. "We’re playing against very experienced sides."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2022.
Mario Annicchiarico, The Canadian Press