With one of the biggest moments in the history of the sport coming up later this year, the Canadian women’s rugby sevens team spent a day on the field at Brentwood College School late last month.
Canada will be one of 12 teams in the field as rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in August. The team is also making its way through the 2015/16 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, with a stop in Atlanta coming up this weekend. The session at Brentwood was a combined conditioning day for the Canadian players and a chance for the coaches to get a last look before setting the roster for Atlanta.
“All in all it was pretty good,” Canadian coach John Tait said. “We train on turf most of the time, so it was good to get out on the grass.”
Grass is “more forgiving,” Tait said, while turf is better for building up speed. Both the Atlanta Sevens and the Olympic tournament will be played on grass.
Although she won’t be playing for the team in Atlanta or Rio this year, Brentwood Grade 11 student Denise Roy was out there training alongside the current players, with an eye toward the future.
“Denise is someone we identified a couple of years ago,” Tait said. “She’s not a very big girl, but she’s very fast; she meets a lot of our speed criteria. She’s someone we’re kind of targeting for Tokyo [in 2020].
“She had a chance to work with some of the older girls who play her position on the team right now. And we worked on some fundamentals so she can work on them with her own team.”
Roy played with the Maple Leafs, a development team for the national sevens program, in Hong Kong last summer, and wasn’t out of place.
“She did OK, for someone who was only 15, playing against women,” Tait said.
Shawnigan Lake School graduate Hannah Darling, meanwhile has become a fixture with the national sevens team.
Similar to Roy, Darling was identified by the national program a couple of years ago, and relocated to Shawnigan for her last year of high school so she could be in the national program on a part-time basis.
That set her up for this year, and she has become one of the young players on the squad who have received extra playing time because of injuries to others.
Darling was on the team for the second stop of the series, in Sao Paulo, Brazil and has been named to the Atlanta Sevens squad. According to Tait, it wouldn’t be a stretch for Darling to play in the Olympics as well.
“She’s in a strong position to contend for selection for the team for Rio,” the coach said.
Atlanta marks halfway mark through the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Going in, Canada is tied with New Zealand for second in the overall standings. Last year, the Canadians wanted to improve on their third-place finish from 2014, which they did by finishing second. The goals this year are a little different.
“This year is more about trying different combinations and different strategies against opponents, tuning little things up, and improving the tools in our toolbox as we go to Rio,” Tait said.
After the Atlanta Sevens, the next tournament in the series will be the Canadian Sevens in Langford on April 16 and 17.