Future is bright for Canadian women's rugby 7s squad
Canada claimed bronze at season-ending tournament in Biarritz, France
All's well that ended well.
Team Canada can start looking to the future. And the future looks bright.
The Canadian women's rugby sevens team achieved three important goals in the final leg of the HSBC World Series in France. Two of them are tangible; the third less so.
Let's start with the obvious. Olympic qualification was a season long slog. There were a couple of hiccups along the way — most notably at its own event in Langford, B.C., where the Canadians failed to live up to the hype after winning gold in Japan.
But John Tait's team got the job done with time to spare. The tickets to Tokyo were in the bag once Canada had beaten Ireland on day one in Biarritz. Bianca Farella raced away for a brace of tries to help Canada book its automatic berth.
WATCH | Canada books tickets for 2020 Tokyo with win over Ireland:
Secondly, Canada finished with a flourish. Importantly, it rebounded from the disappointment of the Canada sevens to snag another podium finish. A gold, silver and a pair of bronze medals are testament to the skill and resilience of this group.
Karen Paquin and Britt Benn were more than ready. In a game that should have been a mismatch, the tenacity of the dynamic duo won the day. The Spaniards threatened a huge upset, but the Canadians' experience ultimately won the day.
WATCH: Canada wins bronze in Biarritz:
Farella is everything a rugby sevens player should be. The 27-year-old Montrealer is quick, strong and decisive with or without the ball. She tackles aggressively and ended the season with 34 tries — just one behind overall leader, Ireland's Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, and well ahead of world stars like Michaela Blyde (New Zealand) and Ellia Green (Australia).
Thirdly, and perhaps, most significantly, Canada has proved it belongs among the elite.
A little more than a year out from the Tokyo Olympics, the red jerseys have demonstrated they will be a force to be reckoned with in Japan. Four years after an historic bronze medal in Rio, where Rugby sevens made its debut, the Canadians are in good shape.
Third in the overall series standings and four podiums confirms Canada means business. It is a major boost for the Canadian program and a timely warning to its Olympic rivals. Canada has no intention of merely making up the numbers.
Clearly, there are no guarantees. That's why we watch. Canada, in common with all the other Olympic qualifiers, will have to up its game. It must continue to improve and evolve over the next 12 months because the rest of the world is catching up fast.
New Zealand continues to raise the bar. The Black Ferns reclaimed their World Series crown from the Australians. Four wins on the circuit and a silver medal in France only prove what we already knew — New Zealand will head into an Olympic year as firm favourites to win Gold.
There can be no doubt about this season's most improved team. The USA has invested heavily in both its men's and women's sevens programs and it is paying dividends. The Eagles earned their first win of the series in France to clinch the series runners-up spot.
In Rio the American women finished 5th and the men a distant 9th of the 12 competing teams. As we approach the end of another four year cycle, both Eagles' teams will arrive in Japan as genuine medal contenders.
In 2016, Canada sent a total of 314 athletes to Brazil. 12 of them represented their country in Rugby sevens and won a medal. If the men can follow the women's lead, and qualify next month, there will be another Team Canada in Tokyo.