After winning a pair of matches against the sixth-ranked U.S., No. 3 Canada steps up in class Sunday when it meets top-ranked England in a women's rugby test match in London.
The Canadians downed the Americans 15-9 and 26-13 last week in Glendale, Colo., to win the inaugural World Rugby Pacific Four Series. It was the first test matches for both since they met in November 2019 at the Can-Am Series in Chula Vista, Calif.
Coming off 56-15 and 43-12 victories over No. 2 New Zealand, England will be a tough ask at the Twickenham Stoop. The Red Roses will be playing their 10th test since the pandemic struck — all wins.
"They've definitely benefited from having their league in place over the last two years," said Canada coach Sandro Fiorino. "We've benefited from some of our players (playing there) but you could see in the matches against New Zealand that they're a team that's well-polished and (has) played some quality rugby.
"We know we're in for a tough battle but for us, at this time in our development, it's a good point to have a look at where our benchmarks are and see where we stand against the world's best. Obviously you always have an opportunity to win, from a scale of one to 10. I just don't know where our scale is. But we'll have to dig pretty deep to knock them off.
"But the way the players are preparing this week, there's a sense of confidence and they're looking to earn the respect of the world, just like every team that goes up against the No. 1 team in the world."
The Red Roses are on a 16-match win streak and have won 47 of their last 51 tests, losing only to New Zealand (2016, 2017 and 2019) and France (2018) over that period.
Plus the English women have won their last 24 tests on home soil, dating back to a 25-20 loss to New Zealand at The Stoop in November 201.
England holds a 27-3-1 all-time edge against Canada. It has won the last seven matches against Canada, dating back to a 52-17 loss in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in July 2016, and has never lost to Canada in 10 matches on home soil.
But the Canadian women came close in their last meeting, losing 19-17 in July 2019 at the Women’s Rugby Super Series in Chula Vista. Sarah Hunter’s 74th-minute try proved to be the winning margin with Canada's Sophie de Goede missing a late penalty.
De Goede, a back-rower who was a standout in the wins over the U.S., did not make the trip to Britain. De Goede and UBC prop Mikiela Nelson returned to Canada to take part in the U Sports Women's Rugby Championship in Kingston.
On Thursday, de Goede was named U Sports Player of the Year and an all-Canadian, along with Nelson. De Goede, whose parents (Hans de Goede and Stephanie White) both captained Canada, was chosen OUA Player of the Year for the third straight season last week.
Elissa Alarie and Pam Buisa, both members of the Olympic sevens squad, and Fabiola Forteza have joined the roster for the European leg.
With the pandemic effectively shutting down club rugby back home for months, many of the Canadian players headed abroad to play. The Canadian starting 15 features seven players with English or French clubs with the entire front row from the Exeter Chiefs.
There is also familiarity in the English ranks. Their matchday 23 includes seven players from Saracens, four each from Wasps and Harlequins, and three from Bristol Bears and Loughborough Lightning.
And there is experience in reserve, with the English bench totalling 330 caps.
English lock Abbie Ward and No. 8 Poppy Cleall are both set to win their 50th caps while flanker Sadia Kabeya and Harlequins wing Heather Cowell will earn their first.
After England, the Canadians face No. 11 Wales on Nov. 21 in Cardiff.
The women's teams are preparing for the World Cup in New Zealand, which was supposed to be played this year but has been pushed back to next October due to the pandemic. Canada is in a group with the U.S., Italy and Japan.
Olivia DeMerchan (capt.), Mapledale, N.B., Halifax Tars RFC/Exeter Chiefs (England); Emily Tuttosi, Souris, Man., Exeter Chiefs (England); DaLeaka Menin, Vulcan, Alta., Exeter Chiefs (England); Emma Taylor, Scotsburn, N.S., Halifax Rugby Football Club; Courtney Holtkamp, Rimbey, Alta, Red Deer Titans; Fabiola Forteza, Quebec City, Club de Rugby de Quebec/Stade Bordelais (France); Karen Paquin, La Ville de Quebec, Que., Club de Rugby de Quebec/Stade Bordelais (France); Gabrielle Senft, Regina, Castaway Wanderers/University of Victoria Vikes; Brianna Miller, Pointe-Claire, Que., Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC; Emily Belchos de Goede, Innisfil, Ont., Westshore RFC; Paige Farries, Red Deer, Alta., Westshore RFC/Worcester Warriors (England); Alexandra Tessier, Sainte-Clotilde-de-Horton, Que., Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC; Sara Kaljuvee, Ajax, Ont., Toronto Scottish/University of Victoria Vikes; Sabrina Poulin, St-Georges, Que., Town of Mount Royal Rugby/Stade Rennais (France); Elissa Alarie, Trois-Rivieres, Que., Westshore RFC/Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC/Braves de Trois-Rivieres.
Laura Russell, Bolton, Ont., Toronto Nomads/Cowichan RFC; Brittany Kassil, Guelph, Ont., Guelph Redcoats; Alex Ellis, Ottawa, Ont., Barrhaven Scottish/Saracens (England); Tyson Beukeboom, Uxbridge, Ont., Cowichan RFC; Pamphinette Buisa, Gatineau, Que., Canada women's sevens/Ottawa Irish; Laetitia Royer, Loretteville, Que., St-Anne-de-Bellevue/Lons Section Paloise (France); Justine Pelletier, Riviere-du-Loup, Que., Club de Rugby de Quebec/Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais (France); Renee Gonzalez, Toronto, Westshore RFC/University of Victoria Vikes.
Hannah Botterman, Saracens; Amy Cokayne, Harlequins; Sarah Bern, Bristol Bears; Zoe Aldcroft, Gloucester-Hartpury; Abbie Ward, Bristol Bears; Sarah Hunter (capt.), Loughborough Lightning; Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning; Poppy Cleall, Saracens; Claudia MacDonald, Wasps; Zoe Harrison, Saracens; Abby Dow, Wasps; Helena Rowland, Saracens; Lagi Tuima, Harlequins; Heather Cowell, Harlequins; Sarah McKenna, Saracens.
Lark Davies, Loughborough Lightning; Vickii Cornborough, Harlequins; Maud Muir, Wasps; Harriet Millar-Mills, Wasps; Alex Matthews, Worcester Warriors; Marlie Packer, Saracens; Leanne Infante, Bristol Bears; Holly Aitchison, Saracens.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press