Double duty: Canadian rugby women take aim at next year’s Olympics, World Cup

One is good. Two is better.

A group of Langford-based women’s rugby players are looking to pull off the Tokyo Olympics and World Cup double next year in sevens and XVs, respectively.

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The pandemic-delayed 2020 Plus One Olympic Games run July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021, in Japan and the 2021 World Cup following from Sept. 18 to Oct. 16 in New Zealand. The draw for the World Cup was made Thursday in Auckland by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, former Black Ferns World Cup-champions Farah Palmer and Melodie Robinson and All Blacks great Dan Carter.

Canada was drawn into Pool B with North American-rival United States and the Europe 1 and Asia 1 teams yet to be decided.

Among the players contemplating the Olympics-World Cup twinbill are Bianca Farella, Britt Benn, Karen Paquin and Elissa Alarie.

“They will take part in two journeys,” said Sandro Fiorino, head coach of the World Cup-bound Canadian XVs team.

“They will add much-needed speed to the World Cup team. I know they will be ready and fit for both events because I know how hard they work in Victoria [at the centralized national sevens training centre in Langford]. It makes our World Cup team deeper. I have worked together with [Canada women’s sevens head coach] John Tait for nine years.”

Canada has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

“It will be a bit of a quick turnaround for the players doing both the Olympics and World Cup but they will be prepared for it,” said Canada sevens mentor Tait.

It could mean two podium appearances in rapid succession for the players pulling double duty. Canada is ranked top three in the world in both women’s sevens and XVs. Canada was runner-up to England in the 2014 World Cup and won the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“That’s a credit to the provincial organizations and U Sports, out of which 95 percent of the national team players come from,” said Fiorino, by phone from Toronto.

“It’s the grassroots which has built women’s rugby in this country.”

He pointed to rising 22-year-old national team XVs player Sophie de Goede of Victoria, who came out of Oak Bay High, the Castaway Wanderers club and B.C. provincial team to sign pro this month with Saracens in England. “Sophie has the opportunity to play in a few World Cups and is a prime example of a player who was developed at the grassroots level in Victoria and came up through the club, provincial and U Sports systems [the latter at Queen’s],” said Fiorino.

Also playing pro overseas, with the Worcester Warriors in England, is national team member and former University of Victoria Vikes star Paige Farries

Meanwhile, Fiorino described the World Cup draw as something familiar in the world No. 6 Americans mixed with a guessing game regarding the other two opponents. One will come out of a European qualifying tournament between No. 7 Italy, No. 8 Ireland, No. 10 Spain, No. 11 Scotland, No 14 Russia and No. 17 Netherlands. The other slot will be filled by the winner of an Asian qualifying tournament between No. 12 Japan, No. 15 Kazakhstan and No. 19 Hong Kong.

“The U.S. is obviously a continental rival we know well and have played often. The other two positions in our pool remain unknowns at this point,” said Fiorino.

“What we do know is that every game counts for so much in pool play. It will be a great opportunity for us.”

“We’ve been drawn into an exciting pool with our traditional North American rivals U.S. and we’re up for the challenge,” said dual Olympic-World Cup hopeful Alarie. Top-three ranked nations England, New Zealand and Canada were drawn from different pots to keep them apart in pool play. The defending-champion Kiwis, winners of five World Cups, drew cross-Tasman rival Australia in Pool A. Top-ranked England will meet France in Pool C with the other two slots in each of those pools to be filled by qualifiers.

Unlike the Olympic sevens team centralized in Langford, the Canadian XVs team has not been together since 2019. Twenty of its players are playing pro overseas with rest training in hubs in Langford, Vancouver and Ontario.

“We will be looking to get all the players together in camps in the new year,” said Fiorino.

“We’re really looking forward to assembling whenever it’s safe to do so,” said Langford-based Alarie

Asked about any health concerns regarding the 2021 World Cup, Fiorino said: “Safety comes first and is the priority. New Zealand has done a fantastic job [in the fight against the virus] and all the protocols are in place.”

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