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Canada Targets first World Cup win

Canada’s women are undefeated at the Rugby World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, driven to win the tournament for the first time in the country’s history.
01 Nov 2022 14:10
Canada Targets first World Cup win
Canada women’s captain and number 8 Sophie de Goede (with ball) competes in the line out during their Rugby World Cup 2021 quarterfinal match against USA at Waitakere Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on October 30, 2022. Photo: Hannah Peters/World Rugby

Canada’s women are undefeated at the Rugby World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, driven to win the tournament for the first time in the country’s history.

On Sunday, the third-ranked Canadians beat seventh ranked United States 32-11 in the Women’s Rugby World Cup final quarterfinal. It was a repeat of last Sunday’s Pool B match between the North American rivals, which Canada won 29-14, after also beating Japan and Italy. Canada hadn’t been perfect in World Cup pool play since 2002.

The Canadian side is as close-knit and jovial off the pitch as it is physical and punishing during a match with its powerful driving pack, known as a maul. Together abroad now for six weeks, including pretournament play in Suva against the Rooster Chicken Fijiana XVs, the players expertly weave fun into the job.

Brand of rugby they scoot to the beach, use basketball as a spirited pre-workout warmup and fill the mundane moments with choreographed dances. Every day includes a much-anticipated moment they call “the morning weather” – a few players doing a quick performance for the group, anything from skits to fashion shows.

Hooker Emily Tuttosi, usually found at the back of Canada’s mighty maul, has scored a tournament-leading six tries. The Canadians have, at times, put on a clinic executing their set piece. “The Canadian brand of rugby has always been big and physical and athletic and a lot of that has been pride in our pack,” Tuttosi, said from New Zealand as she plays in her first Rugby World Cup.

“I look at the women who have worn this shirt before me, and that’s something that they took pride in, and I want to do the same.”

The Canadians won the last seven against the United States, dating to 2019 – their longest win streak against the Eagles. When Canada’s set piece wasn’t functioning at its usual high-level against the United States last week, it adjusted and scored in other ways. Canada made the semi-finals for the first time since the memorable 2014 World Cup in Paris. That year, Canada stormed to its only final appearance, led by a standout performance from Canadian winger and women’s rugby player of the year Magali Harvey. But Canada had to settle for a silver, as it was beaten by England in the final.

Now the Canadians face the same formidable Red Roses in the semis, to be contested at Auckland’s famous Eden Park.

“We aren’t held to the same standard as England and France and New Zealand are,” said Canada’s veteran prop, Olivia DeMerchant.

“People think we’re an underdog, but the standings speak for themselves. We’re third in the world and we should be held to that standard, and I think coming into this tournament, we’ve been quite successful.”

DeMerchant recently won her 50th cap and is one of a few Canadians making a third Rugby World Cup appearance. In 2014 she was a youngster playing sparingly. “I was 21 at the time. So it was kind of surreal to be in a stadium full of people that loved rugby, coming from a small town in New Brunswick,” DeMerchant said. “Being here, I definitely feel more prepared and used to the idea of being in front of a big crowd and at this level of rugby.”

Close knitted team this is the biggest global event in women’s 15s rugby, contested by the world’s top 12 teams, (and rescheduled from 2021 by the pandemic). The United States won the inaugural Cup in 1991, England’s won twice, and New Zealand five times, including the last one in 2017, when Canada finished a disappointing fifth.

Women’s rugby has grown since the last World Cup, featuring a faster pace and more intense collisions.

Several of Canada’s players have moved overseas to play in the Premier 15s, the top tier of the women’s English rugby union domestic league. Canada’s team hails from nine provinces. Many are decorated in multiple sports. Some have starred for other national teams, or as two-sport university athletes. The athletes are skilled in everything from hockey to football, wrestling, basketball and, naturally, rugby sevens.

Two-thirds of the women on the Canadian side are making Rugby World Cup debuts, including the captain, one of those multiskilled athletes. Canada coach Kevin Rouet handed Sophie de Goede, the team’s 23-year-old star in the back row, the captaincy this summer. De Goede, who starred in rugby and basketball at Queen’s University, came in with just 14 caps, but showed natural leadership ability as the daughter of two former Canada captains.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a team as close,” de Goede said.

Source: The Globe and Mail

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