Women’s rugby bronze: from training in Langford to victory at Olympics

A decision by Rugby Canada five years ago to centralize the best sevens players from across the country in Greater Victoria was vindicated with a trip to the podium Monday at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

Those five years of sweat and sacrifice at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence on the Camosun College Interurban campus and at Westhills Stadium in Langford resulted in Canada winning the women’s sevens bronze medal with a 33-10 victory over Great Britain following a 17-5 semifinal loss to eventual gold-medallist Australia.

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“Langford and PISE have meant a lot to us and have been so important for the development of women’s rugby,” said veteran Canadian player Kelly Russell, after the medal ceremony.

“It’s definitely needed for the development and growth of our program and we will continue to grow from it. So many players have come in and out of the program in Victoria over the past five years and all have contributed to this moment.”

The bronze-medal game victory avenged a 22-0 Canadian loss to Great Britain on Sunday in pool play. Canada, 2-1 in the pool, rebounded later Sunday by falling behind 5-0 before rallying for a 15-5 quarter-final win over France with two tries in the last two minutes.

“We knew we had it in us. We believed in ourselves,” said Russell.

Asked what was said inside the Canadian huddle following the medal-clinching final buzzer, Russell said: “We were so very proud. … We just wanted to take in the moment.”

The architect of the program has been Canadian head coach John Tait of Mill Bay.

“I’m just really proud of the girls. I’m so happy to have a medal, to walk away with something,” said Tait.

“The girls showed Canada how good they really are, and this medal means a lot to me.”

Tait added it was as much for the sport itself, as rugby sevens made its Olympic debut. It was also the first time rugby has been played in the Olympics since 1924 and the first time by women.

“This is such a great game and so many people are going to be switched onto it now,” said Tait.

“Hopefully, that’s going to keep us competitive and have us on the podium again in 2020.”

It was only the second medal won by Canada in a team sport in the Summer Olympics since 1936 when Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman won silver in men’s basketball at Berlin in 1936. The drought was broken by the Canadian women’s soccer team with its bronze medal at London in 2012.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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