Canadian women's rugby sevens start season in Dubai
Face shortened schedule with injury-depleted lineup
Building on a breakthrough 2014-15 season, the Canadian women's rugby sevens team kicks off a new campaign Thursday in Dubai.
Having already qualified for the 2016 Olympics, the Canadians are looking to fine-tune their game ahead of Rio. But they will have to do it over a shortened schedule and, at least to start with, a lineup missing several key players out with injuries.
The HSBC Women's Sevens Series took in six stops in 2014-15. It's down to four this time: Dubai, Sao Paulo, Atlanta and Langford, B.C., with London and Amsterdam no longer hosting.
"That was disappointing to hear," said Canadian coach John Tait, who believes a fifth stop may still be added.
Canada also plans to host an invitational event in Vancouver around the time that the men's series comes to B.C. Place Stadium in March. There are 10 stops on the men's schedule.
The Canadian women secured Olympic qualification by finishing second to New Zealand in the series standings last season. Canada also scored its first series victory, hoisting the trophy in Amsterdam.
Tait is still awaiting word on how the Olympic seedings will be handled. Performances this season could play a role in that so there is still little margin for error in the buildup to the Games.
"It's a rehearsal for the Olympics and we want to win at the Olympics so we're going to be doing our best effort to win these series events," he said. "Confidence-wise, it would be great to go into the Olympics with a couple more series wins or even the series title under our belt."
The Canadian roster in Dubai is missing Ashley Steacy, Ghislaine Landry, Hannah Darling, Natasha Watcham-Roy, Bianca Farella, Sara Kaljuvee, Elissa Alarie and Nadia Popov, who are all injured.
Steacy, Landry and Farella are key members of the squad. Steacy quarterbacks the defence, while Landry led the circuit in scoring last season and Farella is one of the squad's strike runners.
Tait hopes to have everyone but Alarie back for the second stop, Feb. 20-21 in Brazil. Alarie is a long-term casualty as she recovers from an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in London in May.
The good news is Kelly Russell is back after breaking her hand at Pan American Games.
The injuries have opened the door to Megan Lukan, who played basketball at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, and 17-year-old Caroline Crossley.
Tait took his team to Rio de Janeiro directly after the Pan Ams to give them a feel for the Olympic venues and see some of the sights, so as to be able to focus on business when they return next summer.
After about a month off, they returned to training in September with a pre-season camp in Australia in October.
In Dubai, Tait's team has been drawn in Pool B with the U.S., Fiji and Ireland.
The women play Thursday-Friday while the men go Friday-Saturday.
- Britt Benn, Guelph Redcoats, Napanee, Ont.
- Caroline Crossley, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria
- Arielle Dubissette-Borrice, Toronto Scottish RFC, Toronto
- Julia Greenshields, Sarnia Saints, Sarnia, Ont.
- Magali Harvey, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City
- Jen Kish (capt.), Edmonton Rockers RFC, Edmonton
- Emily Belchos, Markham Irish, Innisfil, Ont.
- Megan Lukan, unattached, Barrie, Ont.
- Mandy Marchak, Capilano, Winnipeg
- Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.
- Karen Paquin, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City
- Kelly Russell, Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.