Summer Sports

What's next for Canada's women's rugby 7s team?

Canada's women's rugby sevens team won bronze at the Rio Olympics. Now, it faces an even bigger challenge: following up on that success. How does a team that accomplished its primary mission stay motivated going forward?

Bronze-winning squad facing lofty expectations amid internal turnover

New captain Ghislaine Landry will lead Canada's women's sevens team this season. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports)

In sports, success breeds expectations. The Canadian women's rugby sevens team is now faced with the task of living up to its bronze-medal win at the Rio Games.

A few short months after reaching the podium in sevens' Olympic debut, the team heads to Dubai to begin this year's HSBC Women's Sevens Series this weekend.

Canada is consistently one of the top four sides in the world, but the gap is narrowing internationally and changes within the team are inevitable.

"I feel like we haven't really dwelled on the bronze medal so much just because it's a new group," Bianca Farella says from the team's training headquarters in Langford, B.C.

For veterans like Farella, it's a quick turnaround after their longest year of competition (last year's Sevens Series followed shortly after by the Olympics). However, 10 of the 25 players on the overall roster are new to the sevens program and eager to fight for a spot on the active roster and take the team to the next level.

"Because there's [this] new dynamic, it kind of feels like 'OK, what's next?'" Farella says.

Who takes the field for Canada may be the most intriguing part of the team's season.

The immediate future won't include longtime captain Jen Kish, who will miss the Dubai tournament with an injury. Ghislaine Landry will take over the captaincy for the season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, newcomer Kaili Lukan has been dealing with a "decent learning curve" since starting training camp in September.

"I haven't played rugby for four years,"  Lukan, who played basketball collegiately at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, says. Her sister Megan — a member of the Rio team — followed a similar path to the squad.

While Lukan continues to reintegrate herself into the sport, she says the support from the veterans has been helpful.

"The older girls definitely welcome you, they just want to teach you their ways, and so they're very good leaders," Lukan says. "They understand that we're new to the program, they just encourage us to ask questions and to just try our hardest.

At the end of the day, we all try to keep the mindset that we really want Team Canada to win.- Bianca Farella on making the tournament roster

Farella adds: "It's nice because they're so eager to learn and everyone gets along really well and it's a great group."

While the camaraderie may be strong, only 12 of the 25 players travel to each stop on the tour. The younger Lukan, who didn't make the Dubai roster, will stay behind in Langford to keep training.

"That's kind of the essence of this sport," Farella says. "There are people competing for the same position but at the end of the day we all try to keep the mindset that we really want Team Canada to win and Canada to perform well and may it be the best 12 that goes.

"I tried to keep that mindset going into Rio as well. Even if I wasn't in the top 12, I would hope that the top 12 players go and compete because I sincerely want Canada to win."

Making the switch to 15s

Another factor that has contributed to the internal turnover has been the departure of several pivotal players who switched to the 15-a-side team for a shot at the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2017.

Head coach Francois Ratier says that players who chose the sevens program would be unavailable for selection to the 15s team, further compounding the decision of sevens medallists Kelly Russell and Karen Paquin.

"It's two separate programs in the same organization," Ratier says.

"To be involved in another World Cup would be incredible," Russell, who recently resumed her role as 15s captain, says. "It was very important for all of us to be involved in this run."

Magali Harvey is back with the 15s team with an eye on competing in the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup. (Dan Sheridan/INPHO via Rugby Canada)

Another player returning to the Rugby Canada fold is Magali Harvey. The winger, who was notably left off of the Olympic sevens team, is back with the 15s team after playing competitively in New Zealand.

"We've always had a good relationship as a player and coach," Ratier says. "She's a good teammate and she brings excitement on the field."

Ratier's faith in Harvey was rewarded on the team's European tour — the 2014 World Rugby women's player of the year scored two tries in three games as the team went 1-2.

"For me, having her back to compete for a position for the World Cup is good."


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