John Tait leads rugby sevens team to Rio after 'stressful' selection process
The team includes 12 women, Magali Harvey on reserve list
By Callum Ng
John Tait is a massive man and when he coaches a rugby sevens huddle his frame towers over the heads of the women he leads.
On Friday the former Canadian rugby union player, who has been the architect of the women's sevens program since 2011, described the challenge of choosing his 12-women roster for the Rio Olympics.
"It's been the most stressful selection I've ever had to do because of the weight of the event," said Tait via conference call. "While there was 12 really great conversations ... there was four extremely difficult ones and painful ones to have to tell those girls that they're there as reserves," he said.
Tait's chosen 12 will go to the first-ever women's Olympic rugby tournament with high hopes for a medal. Canada was second overall in the Women's Sevens Series in 2014-15 to secure their Olympic berth, and third this past season. Only one from his reserve list of Elissa Alarie, Julia Greenshields, Sara Kaljuvee, and Magali Harvey will travel to Rio, to assist in case of injury.
It is Harvey's exclusion that drew the most attention.
"We used her (Harvey) primarily as an impact player off the bench the last couple of seasons in particular," Tait said. "if she does get called on the squad it'd be more likely because one of our speed people has been injured."
Harvey played in only two of five Series events this season due to injury. She gained notoriety with the 15-a-side team, following a silver medal at the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup, after which she was named 2014 women's player of the year.
Harvey also recently appeared in a Sport Chek campaign video.
Tait faced the difficult task of choosing the final three roster players from a centralized group that has been working together in Langford, B.C. for over four years.
"It has become like a family, I think I've spent more time with these girls than my own three daughters in the last couple years for sure," Tait said.
The veteran of 37 caps runs much of the program, from youth development to the Series. He has fostered an ambitious team led by captain Jen Kish and Series top scorer Ghislaine Landry, both 28-year-olds, and also brought up the younger Hannah Darling, 20, and Charity Williams, 19, from the Youth Olympic ranks.
Tait said his rugby sevens squad was chosen based on a selection matrix.
"The selection came down to who executed their roles the best and who was consistent in their performance in the competitions we had," he said.
Australia, which won three of five Series events, has emerged as the favourite heading into Rio, although Canada did beat them to win the season-ending tournament in France.
"Australia had a great run this year, but hopefully we put some doubt in their mind in France," Tait said. "They are beatable, for certain, we've done it before we plan to do it again."
Canada will begin the Rio Olympic tournament on Aug. 6 with games against Japan and Brazil, before rounding out pool play the next day against Great Britain.