Canadian women’s rugby sevens team takes huge step toward Tokyo

It all starts in Langford. And the road to qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may fittingly culminate there as well.

The Canadian women’s team credited their championship in the Japan Sevens on Sunday to the training time they put in on the Island. The result left the Canadians in second place in the World Series standings, behind the leading Kiwis, and looking poised to clinch an Olympic berth in front of their home-country fans at the Canada Sevens on May 11-12 at Westhills Stadium.

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The Japan Sevens was the fourth of six 2018-19 World Series tournaments, out of which the top four teams will qualify directly for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The big moment of qualification for Canada couldn’t come in a more befitting venue than Westhills.

“This is what all the training is for. We work so hard at home,” said Canadian captain Ghislaine Landry, after scoring the winning try and convert in injury time, as Canada edged England 7-5 in the final of the Japan Sevens in Kitakyushu.

“We train so much, to put it on show in a final.”

That training effort went to good use. Both Canada and England were running on fumes when Landry had enough remaining in the tank to scoop up a loose ball — on a botched Canadian pass attempt from Kaili Lukan to Britt Benn — to run in for the tying try. Landry then kicked the winning convert on the last play to stun the gasping English.

“[Landry] has every kind of skill set,” said Canadian head coach John Tait of Mill Bay.

“She can kick and run and is so calm and collected. She keeps possession and is exact in communicating.”

That only comes through long hours spent training together in Langford, to which the players returned Monday, after arriving from across the Pacific to a warm welcome provided by supporters at YYJ.

“To finish it at the end when time’s up [against England in the final] — it’s a testament to the work we’ve done at home,” said Landry, the season and all-time career-leading World Series scorer.

The men play 10 World Series tournaments in a season, but the women have only six, and had not played since the Sydney Sevens on Feb. 1-3. The Canadian women spent the 21Ú2 month break between Sydney and Kitakyushu training at Westhills Stadium and Goudy Field.

Veteran Bianca Farella scored two tries in the 24-12 victory over the U.S. in the semifinals after Canada prevailed 17-14 in the quarter-finals against the surprisingly-stubborn Russians.

Canada went 3-0 in the preliminary pool by beating Spain 26-17, China 42-19 and defending Olympic-champion Australia 17-14.

It was Canada’s first World Series tournament championship since 2017 and made up for Canada’s all-time worst World Series performance of 11th place, which happened last year in Kitakyushu.

It was also a triumphant return to the Canadian line-up from career-threatening injury for Karen Paquin from the Castaway Wanderers club of Oak Bay. Paquin, a native of Quebec City, scored three tries in the tournament. This was the 31-year-old’s first action with the first team since being part of Canada’s bronze-medal performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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