Last August it was Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team that won bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics and brought unprecedented attention to the sport in the country. One year later, the 15s national team is ready to seize its shot at glory at the Rugby World Cup.
“We can just feel the nation behind us,” team captain Kelly Russell told CBC Sports before departing to Ireland for her third World Cup. Russell made her debut for Canada’s national team in 2007 and was also a part of the medal-winning sevens squad before returning to 15s last fall.
“It’s been an amazing journey seeing where this program has come to and where it definitely can still grow. In 10 years to see where we’ve come is pretty incredible.”
The tournament runs Aug. 9-26 in Ireland.
There are 18 returning players from the Canada’s runner-up appearance at the 2014 World Cup. That 21-9 loss to England in the final serves as both a motivator for future success as well as something to move on from.
“It’s definitely something you look back on, but that was 2014, that was three years ago,” Russell said. “We’ve moved past it, we’ve moved on, we’ve become a stronger team, a more connected team.”
Unshakeable confidence, even as ‘underdogs’
Canada enters the tournament ranked No. 3 in the world, prompting head coach François Ratier to describe the team as “underdogs, but quality underdogs.”
The two teams above them? Longtime nemesis England at No.1 and pool opponent New Zealand, who has beaten Canada twice in the past 10 months. Canada is 4-4 since November.
“We always believe that we learn more from a loss, and right now I think the learning is done,” veteran centre Andrea Burk said. “We’re hungry and we’re ready to win and we’re ready to take this.”
Fly half Emily Belchos echoed Burk’s confidence.
“We know that they’re so beatable,” the 22-year-old from Innisfil, Ont. said. “Both times we played New Zealand, we’ve had amazing moments where we should have taken the game, and then we also made some mistakes.”
Same intensity, renewed approach
Ratier said the team needs to be more efficient in the contact area — the post-tackle melee known as…