LANGFORD, B.C. — With all the international competition Canadian coach Jack Hanratty looked forward to seeing as a challenge for his side at the HSBC Canada Sevens rugby tournament in Langford, B.C., it came down to a good old-fashioned North American clash for fifth-place on Sunday.
Hanratty’s message throughout the prestigious two-day, 12-team event was one of consistency and a chance for his youthful home side to gain experience against quality competition.
In the end, Canada delivered a 12-7 win over their neighbours to the south in front of a rowdy 2,758 fans at Starlight Stadium, its best result so far this season in the 2022 World Rugby HSBC Women’s Series. It followed a key 26-19 victory over Olympic bronze medallist Fiji earlier in the afternoon.
“We’ve just beaten two teams that are known among the world’s best. One, you want to back it up, and to be able to back it up today is exceptional,” a delighted Hanratty said of the back-to-back wins.
“That’s the highest position that we’ve finished (this year). To be top five in the world in a tournament that had all the top teams. There was nobody missing here.
“You know, we started this (2022) campaign without New Zealand and finishing eighth (they’re previous best showing). We’re now fifth with New Zealand and Fiji -- with everyone. We weren’t at the races with Australia and New Zealand, but to be able to say we’ve beaten two of the top teams in the world is incredibly special.”
Of that there was no doubt this weekend. After lopsided losses to both Australia and New Zealand, who met for the championship game in Langford, Canada gutted it out.
“Just the grit and determination. Like the attitude when Olivia Apps tracked to get that tackle. You wouldn’t have seen that a few months ago,” Hanratty said of a try-saving gallop by Apps against the U.S.
You can also throw 18-year-old Krissy Scufield into the mix as she scored two tries against Fiji and also made a try-saving tackle down the sidelines against the Americans.
“Her athletic ability is incredible,” Hanratty said of his young University of Victoria recruit, who was a late addition to the team. “She’s always had that, but now she’s a rugby player and the sky is the limit for her."
“There were definitely a lot of emotions this week, but all of them were good. Everything I do is for the team so I’m happy to just be a part of it,” said Scurfield.
“It was definitely a rollercoaster,” she added of the weekend. “I wasn’t expecting to be playing this weekend so coming in was an absolute honour and I was just happy to be here.”
Another young standout, Flo Symonds, 19, had a solid weekend as well and scored a try against the U.S., while Keyara Wardley added the other and Apps added a convert. Kristi Kirshe and Alena Olsen replied for the Americans.
It was a rough start to the final day for Canada as they were peppered 38-0 by defending Olympic champions New Zealand in quarterfinal play in the morning. It was followed by the electrifying 26-19 upset of Olympic bronze medallists Fiji to advance to the fifth-place game.
Against Fiji, Scurfield led the way with the two tries, including the winner. Hanratty also received a try each from Symonds and Wardley, and again, used a big-time tackle from Apps that saved the game for Canada.
After a 2-0 start to the weekend, Canada ran into a trifecta of tenacious challenges, competing hard in a loss to current World No. 1 ranked Australia on Saturday night, before dropping the lopsided match to New Zealand.
Canada’s ball-handling skills lacked quality in the latter, turning over balls that cost the team dearly. Portia Woodman led the way with two tries for New Zealand, while Stacey Fluhler, Sarah Hirini, Risi Pouri-Lane and Tanika Wilson added one each.
“We had to have three phases of possession and we couldn’t do it,” Hanratty said after the loss to the Black Ferns. “We showed about four or five minutes of that, but if you get nine minutes wrong, five minutes isn’t really worth much.”
Those elements came shining through against Fiji, especially from Scurfield and Symonds, who shone.
“The future is bright and they’ll be playing against (upper-echelon teams) for a very long time. We just have to make sure we close the gap each time,” said Hanratty.
Canadian veteran Bianca Farella, who led with strong play throughout the weekend, agreed whole-heartedly.
“Our goal is Paris 2024 (Olympic Games) and we’re going to keep building until then,” she said. “It’s a great experience for the younger athletes. I’m honoured to be playing with them and help bring up the younger generation of athletes in Canada.”
As for New Zealand, it showed little rust and plenty of quality, despite not competing in almost three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kiwis dropped a disheartening 21-17 decision to Australia in the championship final after disposing of France 26-14 in one semifinal, a rematch of the Tokyo Olympics gold-medal game.
Australia used a final play try from Lily Dick for the win. Maddison Levi and Charlotte Caslick had the other tries for the Wallabies who toppled Ireland 26-5 in the other semifinal to setup the clash of rugby titans.
“This is awesome to have New Zealand back in the series. We’ve been looking forward to playing them after such a long time after, obviously, not matching up in Tokyo,” said Caslick.
In the bronze-medal game, Ireland stunned Olympic silver medallists France 22-14.
Australia, meanwhile, has clinched the 2022 HSBC World Sevens Series title with one more stop remaining in France.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2022.
Mario Annicchiarico, The Canadian Press