Team Canada keeps eyes on the prize Women's Rugby World Cup

As the respective soccer and hockey medals from the 2012 London Summer and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics attest, Canada has it going on in women’s team sports.

Looking to join the party is rugby, with Langford-based Canada playing host France at a sold-out 20,000-seat Stade Jean Bouin in Paris in the 2014 World Cup semifinals today at 11:45 a.m. PDT on TSN.

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“This is the dream. This is the World Cup,” said Canadian winger Jessica Dovanne of Victoria, by phone from Paris.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to get here. Now we will be up against [not only the French team but] 20,000 fans. But once the whistle blows, it’s amazing how quickly you can tune out the crowd.”

Female rugby’s breakout moment is yet to come when sevens makes its Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, with world No. 3 Canada a legitimate medal threat.

Yet, this World Cup has proven in many ways to be a benchmark moment for the women’s XVs game. It helps to be in a rugby-loving nation.

“Posters are everywhere downtown [Paris], there’s lots of media, and people even ask for our autographs,” said Dovanne.

“It’s crazy.”

Dovanne was a gymnast who started playing rugby at Haney Secondary on a challenge when someone doubted she could do it. That led to the University of Victoria Vikes and Velox Valkyries. And now the World Cup.

France defeated Wales, South Africa and Australia by a combined 98-6 in pool play. Canada handily beat Spain and Samoa before tying England 13-13 in its pool.

The other semifinal today has England playing Ireland, with the final scheduled for Sunday in Paris.

The four-time World Cup champion New Zealand Black Ferns had their hopes dashed in pool play.

Dovanne started in the crucial tie game against England and will come into play off the bench today with Brittany Waters starting in that wing spot for the semifinal against France.

Many of the Canadian players are based at the Rugby Canada Centre of Excellence in Langford. That’s largely made possible by Own the Podium federal funding because of rugby sevens’ inclusion in the Olympics starting at Rio 2016.

“Centralization in Langford has really helped us because we get to know each other’s tendencies … it helps us speak the same rugby language,” said Dovanne.

Canada, sixth at the last World Cup in 2010 at England, warmed up for the 2014 World Cup with Test victories on the Island this spring over the United States — 14-10 at Westhills Stadium in Langford and 51-7 at Shawnigan Lake School.

The Christine Sinclair and Hayley Wickenheiser role on the Canadian rugby team is played by captain Kelly Russell.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work that our team has done so far in the World Cup, but we’re not finished. We have a big challenge ahead of us in Paris and we’re all really looking forward to it,” Russell said in a statement.

“We know there’s going to be a packed crowd of supporters for France, but we are going to continue playing our game and know that we have the support of Canadians here in France and watching back home on TSN.”

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

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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