Magali Harvey: Free to lead Canada to World Cup Glory

With a natural ability to evade defenders and almost score at will she quickly blossomed into a star. It wasn't long until Canada's national programs took notice.

Harvey leads Canada at World Cup and takes nothing for granted after being cut from 2016 Olympic team

Magali Harvey will be charging for gold in Ireland later this August. (Douglas Gelevan/CBC)

Magali Harvey first stepped onto a rugby pitch when she was in high school in Quebec City and it didn't take long for her to get her first lesson in how tough the sport can be.

"I tried tackling. I thought I was a super hero, which I am not," Harvey recalls.  

"I ended up with a bloody nose, fell on my bum and I was like, 'Woah, what is this sport.' ... So I decided, OK no, I don't want to get tackled, it hurts. And that's when I realized that I could run pretty fast." 

With a natural ability to evade defenders and almost score at will, she quickly blossomed into a star. It wasn't long until Canada's national programs took notice.

"I never had a closed door," Harvey says.

"I got invited to Canada under 20 and I didn't really know how to play rugby that much and I made the team. I went to university I was a starter right away, I was MVP right away. I went on the national team and I was part of the national team right away," 

Olympic dreams snatched away

Harvey was Canada's star player at the Rugby World Cup in 2014, she led the team to a silver medal and was named the IRB Women's Player of the Year. 

A try she scored against France in the semifinal not only put Canada into the championship game, it got her nominated for the International Rugby Players' Association try of the year.

For months the highlight was played essentially on loop on sports networks across the country and as a result she became the face of the women's game in Canada.

When Rugby Sevens was introduced as a new Olympic sport she was pegged to lead the nation's inaugural charge for gold.

Everything seemed on track when she stared once again for Canada's gold medal performance at the 2015 PAN AM games in Toronto. 

But before the plane took off for Rio, head coach of the seven's team, John Tait, made a shocking announcement. Harvey wouldn't be making the trip. He cut her from the team. 

"Being cut from the Olympics and it being a big surprise, it's probably the hardest thing that's ever happened to me," Harvey says.

For a player who make her career by avoiding big hits, having her Olympic dream snatched away was a shot to the chest the likes she had not experienced since that first practice in high school. 

"Failure wasn't a thing for me. Sometimes you take it for granted because it's not a reality." 

A new reality in New Zealand

Devastated over missing the Olympics, Harvey felt the need to get away and hopped a plane for New Zealand to live abroad and work.

"Rugby is me in a way and I had to step out of that box for a bit and find myself without using rugby as a way to find myself," she says.  

What Harvey found was that being separated from the rigours of the sevens national team training program for the first time in more than half a decade was exactly what she needed.

Magali Harvey leads Canada at the 2017 World Cup while taking nothing for granted after being cut from 2016 Olympic team 3:35

"When I ended up in New Zealand I didn't have anyone to tell me, 'You will go here, you will have breakfast at this time' which sounds so silly now that I'm saying it. But I learned 'adulting' because I had to make my own decisions," she says.

"[On the national team] you're always a sheep, you're always following, you don't need to make your own decisions. You get fed, you get so many things that you don't have to think about."

The freedom to carve her own path off the pitch for the first time in her adult life taught Harvey how to be independent — but she couldn't stay away from the game for long.

New Zealand offered her a chance to work on her skills in a new environment, in a country where the sport is king. Harvey says it opened up her game.   

"Rugby in Canada, say on my sevens team, I found it was a lot of, 'You're going to do this-this-this'. It's not a choice," she says. 

"Where in New Zealand, I found that they give you the tools ... It's the freedom that I kind of enjoy and it's that freedom that I want to bring in, and I've always been good at improvising and creating space out of nothing."

World Cup gold medal ambitions 

Despite Harvey's falling out with the national sevens program, her relationship remained strong with Canada's fifteens team and its head coach François Ratier.

"She has an X-factor, it's important on a team to have someone who can create some chaos in the defence and inspire the others," Ratier says. 

Armed with her new perspective on life, and the game of rugby, she's once again a key part of Canada's leadership group charging for gold this month in Ireland

"It's been a while since I've taken things for granted, this time at World Cup I think I'm a more mature player and I have a better understanding," Harvey says. 

After opening with wins over Hong Kong and Wales, Harvey and Canada take on New Zealand in their final group stage game on Thursday. 

The gold medal final will be played Saturday, Aug. 26 and Harvey plans to use her new approach to life and the game to get Canada there. 

"In 2014, I kept saying 'focus on the process, focus on the process' and it was just words that I was saying. This time I truly believe it."