Canada’s women’s sevens team can look back on 2016 as the best year in the history of the program.
From an Olympic bronze medal to a second-ever cup title and a third place finish on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, the success the team had this past year is unmatched.
While the countdown to the 2016 Summer Olympics had begun many years ago, when the calendar changed from 2015 to 2016, the team entered its most important stretch ever.
The goals heading into the season were lofty; Canada wanted Olympic gold and a first place finish on the series.
Then injuries happened and the team changed course.
After a sixth place finish in Dubai at the end of 2015, Canada kicked off the year by travelling to Brazil in February for the Sao Paulo Sevens, where the team picked up their first ever win over New Zealand in the cup semifinals before falling to Australia in the final.
Canada then finished fourth at the Atlanta Sevens in April before returning home later that month to host the Canada Sevens at Westhills Stadium in Langford. After a very successful day one in front of their home fans, the team bowed out of cup contention early on day two, eventually finishing fifth.
The result meant the team pretty much had to win the final leg of the series in order to finish top three in the standings for a fourth straight season.
So head coach John Tait and his team went to the Clermont Sevens in May and picked up their second ever cup title. With the win, Canada earned 20 series points and jumped ahead of England into third place in the overall standings.
Canada has now finished third, third, second and third in the first four seasons of the WSWS.
Tait says there was a lot of pressure last season but the experience his team gained was invaluable in the buildup to Rio.
“The program has always been about achievement at the Olympics but we also set the goal last season to contest for the series title and win an event,” said Tait. “Unfortunately, those goals got pushed aside pretty early on, with a rash of injuries to a few of our top performers right at the start of the season, we instead worked on getting everyone back healthy and fully fit for Rio selection. This forced our hand in really growing the depth of our squad by selecting 20 different players, instead of going with a more consistent line up and fine tuning throughout the series as we had planned to. The staff and athletes did a tremendous job of getting back fit and at the level we did to win the series in France.”
With their past history and recent form, Canada entered Rio as a medal favourite.
Canadian media started to realize just how good this team was and excitement grew in the weeks before the opening ceremony as more and more people realized a medal was realistic.
The team was given a sendoff in downtown Toronto in front of hundreds of fans before departing for Rio where the sport was one of the first events on the schedule.
Canada finished second in pool play, advancing to the quarterfinals where they beat France to guarantee they would be playing for a medal.
While the team would lose to Australia in the semifinals, they defeated Great Britain in the bronze medal match to claim the first rugby sevens Olympic medal in Canadian history.
It was an historical moment for the team, program and Rugby Canada.
“It was bittersweet for me because I believed we could have contested for gold, although I think everyone got what they deserved, as it was consistent with the finishes over the past four seasons,” said Tait, who called the whole experience “humbling”.
“The difference for me was normally when you compete you’re representing your country’s rugby prowess, but at the Olympics you’re apart of a bigger team that represents more of everything that Canada is about. I’ve had so many strangers come up and tell me how proud they felt by our finals performance, others asking how they or their daughters take up sevens and become Olympians, which is rewarding. With the Olympic inclusion of rugby sevens, Canadian rugby now has an opportunity it’s never had before to capture top young athletes who would have otherwise gone down other sports pathways.”
Tait mentioned talent ID testing combines like Try4Gold as places where athletes have popped up having never played the sport.
“Finishing on the podium has meant that we can access more Olympic funding support in the coming years to help build a sustainable pathway alongside supporting our top players to train and target future podiums,” said Tait. “So we will be looking to really grow our pathways in the coming years to make sure that we take advantage of the opportunity our success in Rio has given us.”
2016-17 HSBC Women’s Sevens Schedule:
Dubai – December 1-2
Sydney – February 3-4
Kitakyushu – April 22-23
Langford – May 27-28
Clermont – June 24-25