The haunting sounds of the Haka drifted from Westhills Stadium across the Pacific to Japan on Sunday night.
New Zealand won the Canada Sevens women’s rugby tournament in Langford to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The top four teams in the 2019 World Series, of which the Canada Sevens was the fifth of six events, advance directly to the 2020 Olympics without having to play in their regional qualifiers.
New Zealand’s performance Sunday before nearly 4,000 fans at Westhills Stadium clinched not only the season World Series standings but also a berth in the Olympics to join host nation Japan.
“It’s awesome to know we’ve booked our place in the Olympics,” said Tyla Nathan-Wong, following New Zealand’s 21-17 win over Australia in the final Sunday.
The victory had extra meaning since it was the Aussies who shocked the Kiwis in the trans-Tasman gold-medal final of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“It was gut-wrenching to fall short at the last hurdle in Rio and it’s been in the back of our minds the past three years,” said Nathan-Wong, who led the Haka following the win Sunday.
New Zealand won its third consecutive Canada Sevens title, which meant a lot to Nathan-Wong, whose uncle, aunt and cousins emigrated to Canada and live in Greater Victoria.
“This is my favourite World Series stop,” she said.
Langford-based Canada, meanwhile, placed fifth and slipped to third in the overall World Series standings and must now wait until the season-ending tournament in Biarritz, France, to book its Olympic ticket to Tokyo.
The second-place U.S., Canada, fourth-place Australia and fifth-place France are mathematically in contention for the remaining three Olympic berths available out of the 2019 World Series season.
Host Canada went into his own tournament sitting second in the season standings and looking to clinch on home turf at Westhills. But a tough 12-7 quarter-final loss Sunday to the eventual bronze-medallist Americans put paid to those dreams. The Canadians rallied for a top-five finish with a 31-0 victory over Spain and 31-7 win over England.
“We made some mistakes in the quarter-final loss but we are a better team than that,” said Canadian speedster Charity Williams, who scored two spectacular field-length tries in the fifth-place game against England.
“It was hard to lose the quarter-final — these things happen — but we knew we had two more games to play and there were important points to collect in those games in terms of the standings. Our mindset became to get those.”
Canadian veteran player Bianca Farella, who also scored two tries against England, echoed those thoughts: “The quarter-final did not end the way we wanted it to. But we needed to keep moving forward through the day because there were still important points for the standings on the table.”
Canada has never won its namesake tournament in the five years it has been held at Westhills Stadium. But the Canada Sevens was again a rousing success on so many other levels with more than 7,000 fans attending over two days. There is pressure to playing at home, in terms of expectations, but the Canadian players said they felt the support and that the fans lifted them to their 4-2 overall weekend record.