Rugby·Analysis

Biarritz will be no vacation for Canadian women's 7s

Biarritz may be a luxury vacation destination, but this will be no holiday for the Canadian women's rugby sevens team. As Nigel Reed writes, the team underperformed at their own party in Langford, B.C., last month, and will be determined to finish the season with a flourish.

Canada looks to lock up 2020 Olympic Games berth in France this weekend

Canada's Ghislaine Landry, right, shown in this February 2019 file photo, will look to help her squad lock up a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games this weekend in Biarritz, France. (File/Getty Images)

There are currently two Team Canada's in France.

They both play in red jerseys (obviously) and are both led by iconic players.

While Christine Sinclair and her teammates are aiming to advance at the FIFA Women's World Cup, Ghislaine Landry will try to steer the Canadian Sevens rugby team to a place at next year's Tokyo Olympic Games.

Landry is the Sinclair of the Sevens world. She has been there and seen it all. A veteran of the Rio Olympics, at which Canada won bronze, Landry is the quiet, effective leader of a well-balanced, well-drilled team.

The majority of the work has already been done. With one round remaining of the HSBC Women's World Series, Canada is almost home and hosed. It needs only a couple of points to secure a berth in Japan, but will be aiming for much more than that.

Biarritz is a luxury vacation destination, but this is no holiday for the Canadians. John Tait's team, who once again underperformed at their own party in Langford, B.C., last month, will be determined to finish the season with a flourish.

WATCH | Coach John Tait says his team is motivated:

Women's rugby 7s head coach John Tait chats with CBC Sports' Brenda Irving after his teams 5th place finish in at the Rugby World Series stop in Langford, B.C. 1:55

A Cup quarter-final would be more than enough to secure an Olympic place. Canada has the skill and experience to beat relegation-threatened Spain and Ireland, leading to a potential Pool B decider against Australia.

Australia equally motivated

They met at the same stage in Langford. Canada established an early lead but ultimately could not deal with the pace of Aussie winger Ellia Green. Australia went on to claim a silver medal behind serial winners New Zealand.

The Australians cannot afford any mistakes. They begin the France Sevens in fourth place, just four points behind Canada. It is still possible for the unpredictable French to overtake them on home soil and steal their Olympic tickets.

Canada has the tools to succeed. Landry is surrounded by other natural born leaders. Britt Benn is a ferocious tackler with energy to burn on both offence and defence. She's a fearless athlete whose tenacity is infectious.

WATCH | Britt Benn is an impact player:

A closer look at Canada's Brittany Benn who was the Impact Player for the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series event held in Langford, B.C. 0:36

Karen Paquin has returned in triumph. Her comeback after years of surgery and rehab has been an unqualified success. Like Benn, Paquin is brave and committed, and her strength allows her to break lines leading to important tries.

WATCH | Karen Paquin says her team needs to 'keep fighting':

CBC Sports' Brenda Irving caught up with Karen Paquin after Canada's 31-7 victory over England in the 5th place final at the Rugby World Series stop in Langford, B.C. 0:49

In a sport where speed is key, Canada has genuine pace. Charity Williams has shown numerous opponents a clean pair of heels while Bianca Farella is indispensible. Her 28 tries in as many matches this season is a testament to her consistency.

Canada must look upwards in France. Success on Day 1 could well lead to a semifinal showdown with the U.S. A head-to-head matchup with the Americans would be one to savour since the two are separated by just two points ahead of the season finale.

Recent form shows they are well matched. Canada beat the U.S. in the semifinals in Japan only for the Americans to have their revenge in the last eight on Canadian soil. A little over 12 months from now these two could be battling for an Olympic medal.

Black Ferns poised for overall title

While Canada tries to track down the Americans, everyone is attempting to keep pace with New Zealand. The Black Ferns are poised to reclaim the Women's Sevens Series title in Biarritz.

Four wins out of five this season proves New Zealand is in a class of its own. Even without the brilliant, but injured Portia Woodman, the likes of Sarah Hirini, Michaela Blyde and Tyla Nathan-Wong have simply set the bar too high for anyone else to handle.

The Black Ferns are already making plans for Japan. By the time the weekend is over, Team Canada will be able to start mapping its own Olympic journey.

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