2017 was another extremely successful year for Canada’s women’s sevens team, who reached new highs and continued to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the world.
After starting the season with a sixth place finish in Dubai last December, Canada made a couple New Year’s resolutions and kicked off 2017 in celebratory fashion, claiming their third ever cup title at the Sydney Sevens in early February.
They followed that up with a third place finish in Las Vegas before making back-to-back cup finals in Kitakyushu and Langford, where they lost to New Zealand in both matches. The second place finish at the Canada Sevens was their best ever on home soil and marked the first time Canada had reached three cup finals in one season.
Canada wrapped up the 2016-17 season with a third place finish at the Clermont Sevens, giving them five straight top-three finishes to end the season.
With 98 points, Canada finished third place in the WSS standings, two points behind Australia. It was Canada’s largest point total in a single season and the 16.3 points per round were also their most on average in series history.
It continued a remarkable run of success for the women’s sevens program, which saw its fifth-straight top three finish on the circuit.
“Sydney was definitely the highlight last season, as well as making three finals,” said captain Ghislaine Landry. “We showed better consistency last season and it’s important that we continue to build off that. Every year we are building belief that we can be the top team in the world and last season was a big step forward.”
Canada was the only other team aside from defending series champions New Zealand to win a tournament in 2017.
“Sydney was a big recovery performance from the team last year after a disappointing Dubai (in the opening leg),” said head coach John Tait. “I would have to say though that the Kitakyushu Sevens, where we ended up in second place on a last-minute score from New Zealand was where we really played our best rugby of the season and perhaps ever in this program. Results are always important but that tournament performance was pretty special for us. Results like those build a lot of belief both within the program and also with all of those who support us and just makes us want to keep improving to repeat those performances again and again.”
Canada has now finished behind New Zealand and Australia in three consecutive seasons.
“Consistency has become crucial on the World Series,” said Landry. “Every team is constantly improving and we need to go and play six strong games, five is no longer enough.”
Tait echoed his captain’s thoughts.
“Consistent play is so important no matter who you are facing,” said Tait. “You can’t afford to not be clinical on day one as fatigue accumulates so quickly in sevens and you need a lot in the tank to challenge for the medals on day two. It’s also important that we have everyone contributing and sharing the workload over the course of the tournament so we have a lot of options when we play teams like New Zealand and Australia.”
Canada has now made twenty-seven straight WSS cup quarterfinals, and while the consistent results should be applauded, Landry thinks there are bigger fish to fry.
“It shows we are consistently doing enough to be top three, but that’s not good enough,” said Landry. “A few years ago that was the goal, but we don’t set goals to be top three anymore, we want to be the best team. We have to keep pushing forward breaking through walls and finish off those tight games. We can beat any team.”
The head coach has the same self-belief.
“I don’t think we are far behind New Zealand,” said Tait. “Two of three games last season came down to the last play of the game to decide it and we won three of five over Australia, including beating them in their Sydney tournament. So we know we can beat them, but to consistently get results against them we have to be clinical and control the ball possession from start to finish.”
Earlier this month, Rugby Canada announced Britt Benn, Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields and Ghislaine Landry as the four finalists for the Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Award.
Benn was named to the Dream Team at three tournaments in 2017 and made the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Dream Team.
“Britt is so unique in the women’s’ game because she has such self-belief combined with being so competitive and aggressive,” said Tait. “The team looks to her to set the tone physically and when she does you can see the confidence lift in those around her. I’m really proud of her and the way she has become a really disciplined team player.”
Farella continues to be one of Canada’s most lethal scorers, sitting fifth all-time in WSS history with 84 tries scored. She was named to the tournament Dream Team in Langford back in May where Canada lost to Australia in the Cup Final.
“Bianca has grown so much as a player these past few years and has always nailed the physical preparation along with all the other training that goes into being an elite level rugby player,” said Tait. “Her skillsets are solid. She is strong, fast and has really developed her vision on attack. She is a big threat out there to defences because she can see gaps and hit them as well as create them for others with her play.”
2017 was a terrific year for Greenshields, who had spent the previous couple of years in-and-out of Tait’s roster. She was named to the Dream Team in Kitakyushu in April and a few weeks ago in Dubai, where she finished tied for second in tournament scoring with 35 points from seven tries.
“I’m really happy for Julia, she’s worked hard and continues to work hard to improve herself,” said Tait. “She has always been talented and has been developing all of her skillsets. Importantly for the team she is now a consistent performer and does a great job of executing her roles on the field.”
Another player who does a great job of executing her roles is Landry, who was named team captain before the start of the 2016-17 season. While a lot has been added to her plate from a leadership standpoint, the Toronto native continues to be electric on the field, where she led the series in scoring once again last season with 269 points. She enters 2018 with 855 points all-time, the most in series history.
“Ghislaine has been a great leader and always exemplifies a team-first attitude on the field,” says Tait. “She is meticulous with the way she trains and approaches the game. She does score a lot but I think a lot of people would be surprised if they realized how many of those tries come off of her working hard to support her teammate’s breaks.”
Landry was named to the Dream Team in four of the six tournaments in 2017 and joined Benn on the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Dream Team.
As for her first season as captain, she says she enjoyed it.
“Last season was a lot of fun for me,” said Landry. “We were trying new things on the field, some of the young girls were really coming into their performances and as a team we were playing some really great rugby. I’m always learning new things, and looking to be a better leader, teammate and a player. It’s an honour to lead the team.”
The 29-year-old also takes great pride in leading a program that is slowly getting the exposure it deserves.
“We have come so far,” said Landry. “In my playing career, I’ve experienced our women’s program evolve massively. I started playing rugby when we would pay $3,000 to go on tour, wearing oversized men’s kit, told women’s rugby wasn’t marketable and no one in Canada knew we even had a women’s rugby team. Fast forward to 2017, I’m a full time athlete, an Olympian, earning a salary in a funded program, training at a world class facility with a five-star support staff. We’ve put rugby on the map in Canada and are pushing to be the best team in the world, and all while wearing kit that fits me.”
However, with all the success comes more eyes and raised expectations and Landry believes there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“We cannot be complacent,” said Landry. “With all the growth we’ve made in Canada, other countries are also making huge strides. To stay competitive, we need to continue to work hard to improve our game and the structures around them.”
With the World Cup and Commonwealth Games both on the horizon, 2018 could prove to be a critical year for the women’s program.
“We set goals for winning the World Series title, World Cup and Commonwealth games in 2018,” said Tait. “Those are all big challenges for us and finishing fourth in Dubai makes it a little more so but we believe in ourselves and have a history of improving and getting stronger as the season progresses. That being said, the series looks the most competitive to date so as always, we are going to have to work hard for it.”
It should make for an exciting year of rugby.
“It’s a big season and unlike any season before,” said Landry. “First priority is finishing well on the World Series, ideally in first place. That would set us up for a good draw at the World Cup and our campaign there. Commonwealth is a new competition for us and definitely exciting to be part of. As athletes, we will go one tournament at a time, and when you’re on the field representing your country, it doesn’t matter the competition, you give it all you have.”
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Dates & Upcoming Tournaments:
Sydney, Australia – January 26-27, 2018
Commonwealth Games – Gold Coast, Australia – April 13-15, 2018
Kitakyushu, Japan – April 21-22, 2018
Langford, Canada – May 12-13, 2018
Paris, France – June 8-9, 2018
Rugby World Cup 7s – San Francisco, USA – July 20-21, 2018