Canadians roar back to sweep Can-Am women's rugby series

Brian Burke, better known in hockey but also a Rugby Canada board member, observed in Victoria last week that sevens is trending because of its pending Olympic debut at Rio 2016, but that XVs remains the “backbone” of rugby.

Canada showed plenty of that backbone Saturday in rallying from a 10-0 half-time deficit to defeat the U.S. 14-10 in the Can-Am Series women’s game before a large and enthusiastic crowd at Westhills Stadium in Langford.

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With medal-deciding games at the 2012 London Summer Olympics in soccer and 2014 Sochi Winter Games in hockey, the Canada-U.S. women’s sporting rivalry has been spirited. If Saturday’s game was any indication, rugby will add more than a few chapters to that rivalry in the years ahead.

“We never had any doubt that we would come back,” said Canadian team veteran Andrea Burk from North Vancouver, who came off the bench to provide a huge lift in the second half.

“The crowd was awesome, stomping their feet on the metal [grandstand], and making so much noise to encourage us.”

Canada, which opened the Can-Am series with a 51-7 victory Tuesday at Shawnigan Lake School, won the two-game set 65-17 on aggregate. The series is to help prepare both national sides for the 2014 World Cup from Aug. 1 to 17 in France.

“The U.S. had done their homework [after Tuesday],” said Burk, who like the rest of the national team players, is based at the Rugby Canada Centre of Excellence in Langford.

“We knew we had to come out in the second half and be aggressive and keep moving forward.”

The U.S. led on unconverted first-half tries by lock Sharon Blaney from Massachusetts and winger Amanda Street from West Virginia. Magali Harvey of Quebec City pulled Canada to within 10-6 with penalty goals at 50 and 59 minutes. An unconverted try by Elissa Alarie of Trois-Rivières, Que., at 69 minutes gave Canada its first lead at 11-10. A penalty goal by Burk increased that to the final 14-10 scoreline at 73 minutes.

“We changed the momentum in the second half,” said Alarie.

“We just pushed and kept going forward. The handling of the ball was messy sometimes because of the rain. But this is a great rivalry. It was a very physical game.”

The U.S. defeated Canada 23-20 in the fifth-sixth place game at the last World Cup in 2010 in England and holds a 17-15 edge in the all-time series between the nations.

Saturday’s game was the 100th Test match in Canadian women’s XVs rugby history.

“We stuck together,” said Canadian captain Kelly Russell of Toronto.

“It was an intense, physical game.”

Canada’s coach Francois Ratier, a former player in France’s top league, is using the Can-Am series to decide which of the 40 players invited to this camp will make the final 26-player roster for the 2014 World Cup, where Canada will be in Pool A with England, Samoa and Spain.

At the last two World Cups, Canada was led by the since-retired Heather Moyse — also a Winter Olympics bobsled gold-medallist at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.

“We know the goal for this summer — get to the semifinals, get to the final and become World Cup champions,” said a determined Andrea Burk.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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