LANGFORD, B.C. — Sunday's women's rugby test match between Canada and visiting Italy will be a family affair for Sophie de Goede.
The Canadian captain is looking forward to a rare chance to play at home and to give some members of her family a chance to see her in action for the first time.
"It's cool for me because it’s the first time playing at home for five or six years now, having gone away to university, so I'm really excited to have all my family and friends around and seeing familiar faces in the crowd," said the 23-year-old No. 8.
"My parents make great efforts to come and watch me play different games, but my brothers and aunts and uncles haven’t seen me play live in years so it’s going to be really special to play in front of them."
The matchup between No. 4 Canada and the No. 6 Italians at Starlight Stadium is a tuneup test match ahead of the upcoming World Cup, which will be held Oct. 8 to Nov. 12 in New Zealand.
It is also the first test match on Canadian soil in seven years, and will be followed by a second as Canada faces No. 9 Wales in Halifax on Aug. 27.
De Goede was a star athlete at Victoria's Oak Bay Secondary who excelled in high-school rugby, basketball and soccer.
She played rugby and hoops at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., where she was recently named the U Sports Female Athlete of the Year for 2022. The rising star has also played pro rugby in England for the Saracens.
De Goede says her transition to team captain has been made easier by the presence of the team's other veterans.
"We have a great leadership group and a lot of experienced players and they’ve welcomed me into that role," de Goede said.
"It’s also a shared role. At camp we have 44 people so there is only so much one person can do and I think we do a pretty good job on this team of sharing that responsibility.
"It’s obviously a great honour to be captain on paper, but the leadership on the team is certainly shared.”
De Goede’s talents come naturally. Her Dutch-born father Hans was twice to the all-world team and captained Canada in the first men’s World Cup in 1987.
Mom Stephanie White also captained Canada in the first women’s World Cup and played in two others. Brother Thyssen de Goede was capped for Canada in 15s and played in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in sevens.
Sophie de Goede said choosing which athletic path to take after high school was difficult.
"It was special to win the U Sports top-athlete award, and there was some doubt for me between the two sports at both Oak Bay and Queen’s, but rugby took off for me and I’m confident in that choice," she said after a training session in the heat on Wednesday. "But anytime anybody wants to play pick-up hoops, I’m there."
Canada’s coach Kevin Rouet, who was an assistant in the program prior to being promoted to head man in March, said de Goede is a natural leader, more so on the field.
“Sophie De Goede is going to be the captain of Canada for years and years to come, whether I’m the coach or not,” he said.
Tyson Beukeboom, the daughter of four-time Stanley Cup-champion Jeff Beukeboom, will also get the chance to play at home after moving west from her native Ontario.
"It's going to be so exciting. I think the last one was seven years ago. I was fortunate enough to play in that one, too," she said of a match against the United States at Starlight Stadium. “So hopefully we get a nice, big crowd out and show off.”
Beukeboom will be playing in front of her partner Bristine for the first time.
"She's so excited and I’m really excited. We’ve been together for five years and she’s never seen me play live," Beukeboom said.
Rouet realizes the importance of the matchup against Italy, which will be in Canada’s pool at World Cup in New Zealand.
"It's the first time in seven years that we play a game at home so it’s very special for the girls," he said. "You can see that they are excited for the game. As we are not together a lot of time we want to build those connections. We want to build confidence and connections with the players."
And Italy comes in as a well-prepared opponent.
“They’ve been playing really well in Six Nations and moving up in the rankings, so I think it will be a good matchup for us," de Goede said.
The World Cup was originally scheduled for 2021 but postponed a year due to the pandemic.
“It was disappointing at first. But in sports when something negative happens, you re-frame, and that’s what we did,” de Goede said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2022.
Mario Annicchiarico, The Canadian Press