Women's rugby 7s semis showcasing the world's finest
Top 4 teams in the world, including Canada, fighting for medals
By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports
The top four women's rugby sevens teams in the world will be centre stage Monday. You'll definitely want to skip work for these matches.
After a resilient comeback against France, the Canadians face top-ranked Australia in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. ET. Later, Great Britain takes on the always formidable Black Ferns of New Zealand to round out who will play for bronze at 5:30 p.m., and the gold at 6 p.m.
These are the world's best sevens teams, having finished in the top four of the HSBC Women's Sevens Series. While the Australians are the reigning champions, the Black Ferns won the previous two with Canada neck and neck with the Brits in a rivalry that predates the official circuit.
Canadian, Australian teams very similar
Canada is 1-3 against Australia this year, with its lone win coming in the final of the last Sevens Series tournament in France. While Canada won that tournament, Australia secured the overall title handily.
"Canada has beaten Australia before, they know they can do this," Andrea Burk, CBC Sports rugby analyst and a former Canadian national team member said. "They've done it without Jen Kish or Ashley Steacy on the field. These two players will be in the action [Monday] in the semifinal.
Burk is looking forward to a matchup of two "dynamic and athletic" sides. Australia, which had to fight back to tie the United States in its final pool match, returned to form in a 24-0 shutout of Spain. At the forefront of the Aussie offence are Charlotte Caslick and Emma Tonegato, who co-lead the team with six tries.
"Caslick has been very strong this tournament. She's a triple threat; she's a threat to run with the ball, she's a threat to pass, she keeps the defence guessing and of course she has a very quick step," Burk said about the 21-year old from Brisbane.
"Canada will have to mark her tightly."
Toughest test yet
After coasting to two blowout wins on the first day of competition, Canada encountered a pair of stingy defensive opponents in Great Britain and France. Canada was exposed defensively at the breakdown and on the wings, while the offence looked disjointed for stretches.
"Canada's strength is when they play well together," Burk said. "When they feel like they're under pressure or when they are stressed out, they tend to take more individual efforts, which really hurts their game plan."
"So by sticking to their roles and trusting each other, they'll come out with a better result like we saw in the second half against France."
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CAN?src=hash">#CAN</a> takes the lead against <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FRA?src=hash">#FRA</a> late in the 2nd half <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RugbySevens?src=hash">#RugbySevens</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rio2016?src=hash">#Rio2016</a> <a href="https://t.co/DvyHUwk4Pv">https://t.co/DvyHUwk4Pv</a>—@CBCOlympics
Another factor to consider is the kicking game. The usually reliable Ghislaine Landry missed all three conversion attempts, and made tactical errors off the kickoff and with a botched chip-and-chase. Burk thinks she will stay on for the first try, at least against Australia but Kelly Russell could ably step in if Landry continues to falter.
Close match expected between Brits, Kiwis
In the second semifinal matchup, Burk predicts a tightly contested affair between the two rugby-mad nations.
"New Zealand did enough to get the win earlier [Sunday], the U.S., played out of their skin but they didn't put the same sort of attacking pressure on them like Great Britain will have," Burk said.
The Brits are a familiar thorn in Canada's side, but are 1-2 against New Zealand this season. The Black Ferns are led by Portia Woodman, the leading try scorer on the Sevens Series this year.
"If New Zealand comes out like they did in their first match of the day [a 26-7 rout of France], coming up hard, hard hits then they should be able to break open the Great Britain defence and ruffle their feathers," Burk said.