With 20 minutes to play in the second game of the 2017 Can-Am Series, Emily Belchos sealed the win.
The Canadian side had all but secured the series win, having dismantled the USA 39-5 in the first game. But when Belchos took a pass from Lori Josephson and touched down, she put yet another stamp of success on Canadian rugby, breaking open what was a 10-point game and helping push Canada to a 37-10 win.
For Belchos, 22, these types of performances have become commonplace. This summer, she’ll be playing in her second Women’s Rugby World Cup and, as she showed as a 19-year-old in 2014 in France, the young fly-half will have no problem guiding the backs on a veteran-laden squad.
“She’s a good leader on the field and players trust her,” says Canadian coach Francois Ratier. “It doesn’t matter how old she is.”
Moving back to the 15s team after playing with the sevens side for the last three years, Belchos is back in her sweet spot.
“The sevens program has been a huge part of my life,” Belchos says. “It was three years where I grew a lot as an athlete and a person and I think it really prepared me for the level I need to be at. But I couldn’t give up the opportunity to go to another World Cup. I love 15s so much and I love the team so much.”
In one of her high school yearbooks, Belchos wrote that she wanted to one day play in the World Cup. Barring injury, she’ll be on the pitch Aug. 9 when Canada takes on Hong Kong.
Back home, there will be a few extra people at the Garth Homer Society in Victoria, B.C. rooting her on.
When Belchos isn’t training, she works with adults who have developmental disabilities, helping assist with day programs. Some days, they might deliver newspapers, while other days they might just go swimming. It’s a job that’s more than a job.
“It really is great to have a part-time job that is so fulfilling,” Belchos says. “The focus is on inclusion and supporting our clients to participate in community based activities. I love going to work and it’s a time that you can switch off from your athlete life and focus on other people.”
With a daily schedule that is so dedicated to rugby, her job gives her a break – a mental refresh at a time when rugby is her primary focus.
“That block of time is really beneficial,” she says. “And they’re my biggest fans.”
When the World Cup begins, they’ll be watching. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re witnessing the rise of one of the best fly-halves in the world.
“Emily is a very good defender,” Ratier says. “She’s a good tackler and she’s smart, so as a fly-half, she reads the game very well.”
Belchos started playing rugby in Grade 9 and like most players on the national team, she immediately embraced the game’s physical nature.
“I fell in love with the sport right away,” says Belchos, who played her club rugby with Markham Irish. “I definitely liked the physicality of rugby and I liked that more people can play it, at least in 15s. There’s a position for anyone and I felt like I had a bit more freedom in rugby.”
In her early days on the rugby pitch, she took full advantage of every position, starting at fullback, then dabbling as a flanker, before having a go at every other position within the backs. The year before the 2014 World Cup, she played fullback with Canada’s U20 side. But when Ratier called her up to the senior team for a pre-tournament trip to New Zealand in 2014, she slotted at the No. 10, eventually earning her first cap as a substitute against Australia.
“It was a pretty crazy experience,” she says. “I wasn’t a very experienced fly half and then I got called up to play with the team. Getting to put on the jersey is such an honour. Getting to get on the field was the start of my dream coming true.”
Since that game, Belchos has started every match she’s played, which includes, the final against England in 2014. Canada lost 21-9, but Belchos thrived in the spotlight.
“I remember standing on the field and looking at the crowd and thinking that this is what I was meant to do. I had no nerves. I felt more comfortable and ready to play in a stadium full of fans than if no one was there. I can’t wait to, hopefully, go again and win it this time.”
When Belchos helped lead Canada to a convincing Can-Am Series win, it was one small step in what the team is hoping is an historic summer.
If it goes as planned, expect to hear plenty more from the hard-working Belchos.
“Whenever I struggle in the gym or am exhausted from training, I just try to remind myself that I do this to be the best fly-half in the world and the best fly-half I can be for our nation, so we can come together and win a World Cup.”