Women’s rugby on track as Olympic qualifying series approaches halfway

The women’s rugby team is a comfortable group, even considering it’s an Olympic qualification year and all.

Confident might be a better word. The team is ranked third after two stops of the Women’s Sevens Series. If they are top-4 after all six tournaments they will be going to Rio.

“We know that we’re going to qualify. I would be shocked if we didn’t qualify by the end of the series”, says captain Jen Kish during the week before the third round tournament at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta.

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Only leaders New Zealand with 40 and Australia with 36 have more than Canada’s 32 points. The previous tournaments in Dubai and Brazil had the same top five, the Kiwis beat Oz in the final, the Canadians out-paced France, and England was fifth.

“We want to be top three because we know that we’re good enough to be there,” comments Kish. And she is correct, Team Canada has filled the three-spot in five-straight series events going back to last season.

And the Atlanta stop is a better draw for Canada, in Pool C. They have England, plus 9th-ranked Brazil and last-placed China. “It’s the best draw we’ve had in a while, it’s the first time we haven’t had two or three top six teams in our group,” says head coach John Tait.

Day one of the tournament is all about winning and scoring game points. The top-3 seedings for day two’s quarterfinals are determined from the three pool winners and day one points scored. For example, if Canada wins Pool C on Saturday and out-scores everyone else, they will take on the eighth-seed in their quarterfinal. This is ideal.

Here’s the best situation: Assuming New Zealand and Australia are some combination of second and third after Saturday, and everyone advances through quarters, Canada would avoid both countries in a semifinal, they’d have to play one another in a ‘down-under’ collision.

“It’s not that we’re shying away from that, it’s just tactics, you don’t want every game to have to be a battle.” observes Kish on the route around AUS or NZL.

Canada played Australia in the semifinals of the Brazil tournament, they led 7-5 until the final minute when a mistake allowed Australia to advance with a late try.

Besides Pool C, the Canadians will also get a lift from the return of depth player Elissa Alarie who was injured in Dubai. Tait has also added 25-year-old Brittany Benn and 22-year-old Natasha Watcham-Roy, both making their debut on the senior national team. Swapping out a different set of three bench players is a development strategy for Tait, because most actually see field time when they come on tour.

Elissa Alarie (Rugby Canada/ Ian Muir)

Elissa Alarie (Rugby Canada/ Ian Muir)

Canada’s top nine: Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields, Jennifer Kish, Ghislaine Landry, Mandy Marchak, Kayla Moleschi, Karen Paquin, Kelly Russell and Ashley Steacy.

So the Canadian team is well set up for another top-three performance, inching them closer to Olympic qualification. And they can count on a boost in round four, to be held on home soil April 18-19 in Langford, BC.

The order of pool games for Canada on Saturday will be Brazil, then China, finishing with England. Games will be streamed live here.