Veteran trio leads Canadian women as Rugby World Cup opens in New Zealand

Tyson Beukeboom, Elissa Alarie and Karen Paquin kick off their third Rugby World Cup on Saturday when third-ranked Canada takes on No. 13 Japan in Pool B play at Northland Events Centre in Whangarei, New Zealand.

Beukeboom (50 caps), Alarie (41 caps) and Paquin (32 caps) bring some veteran savvy to the table for a team whose 23-woman matchday roster features 15 players making their World Cup debut.

The tournament debutantes include captain Sophie de Goede, a 23-year-old rising star who will be earning her 15th cap for Canada.

While top-ranked England is the heavy tournament favourite with the second-ranked New Zealand Black Ferns also in the mix, third-ranked Canada hopes to change the odds.

"I won't claim to have the experience to know exactly what it takes to win a World Cup yet, but I think we have a group that can do that from what our more experienced players say," said de Goede, who plays No. 8. "They think we have a really good shot in our analysis of the other teams."

England, two-time champions and five-time runners-up, will be hard to beat, however. The Red Roses are riding a 25-match win streak and have not been beaten since a 28-13 loss to New Zealand in July 2019.

The Black Ferns are defending champions, beating England 41-32 in the 2017 final.

England showed just how far ahead it is of the opposition in late 2021 when it thumped New Zealand 43-12 and 56-15 before hammering Canada 51-12 and the U.S. 89-0.

The Red Roses outscored their opponents 282-22 in winning the Women's Six Nations earlier this year.

Canada appeared in all eight previous editions of the tournament, finishing runner-up to England in 2014. The Canadian women finished fourth in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Canada was fifth at the last World Cup in 2017. This tournament was originally slated to start last September but was postponed due to the pandemic.

After Japan, the Canadian women face No. 5 Italy on Oct. 15 and the sixth-ranked U.S. on Oct. 22, both in Auckland.

Taylor Perry will direct the Canadian backs Saturday in her role as fly half with Brianna Miller at scrum half. Miller also serves as placekicker with de Goede available as needed for kicks from distance.

Perry excels at connecting her teammates, according to coach Kevin Rouet. Julie Schell offers a different look at No. 10 off the bench, offering a creative approach to the back attack.

"What I like with this team is every time I think of someone, the profile is different," said the French-born Rouet, who now makes his home in Quebec City. "Sometimes it's good to have a lot of players who don't bring the same stuff."

Speed in the backs comes from wings Maddy Grant and Paige Farries.

The Pacific Four Series in June gave the Canadian women a taste of what to expect at the World Cup. They finished runner-up to New Zealand, sandwiching wins over the U.S. (36-5) and No. 7 Australia (22-10) around a 28-0 loss to the Black Ferns.

"Lots of learning, for sure," de Goede said of the Pacific Four competition.

"I think the loss against New Zealand was a tough pill to swallow … It highlighted some areas of work and focus for improvement for us moving forward," she added.

Canada has won three straight since that tournament, defeating Italy 34-24 and No. 9 Wales 31-3 in Langford, B.C., and Halifax, respectively, before beating No. 21 Fiji 24-7 in Suva en route to the World Cup.

The Canadians demonstrated an effective driving maul in the lead-up to the World Cup with the forwards able to rumble forward almost at will.

"A real weapon," said de Goede.

Saturday's game marks Canada’s 150th women’s test match.

Kickoff is 10:15 p.m. ET Saturday in Canada — 3:15 p.m. local time Sunday in New Zealand.


Canada Starting Lineup

Brittany Kassil, Guelph, Ont., Guelph Redcoats; Emily Tuttosi, Souris, Man., Calgary Hornets/Exeter Chiefs (England); DaLeaka Menin, Vulcan, Alta., Calgary Hornets/Exeter Chiefs (England); Courtney Holtkamp, Rimbey, Alta., Red Deer Titans; Tyson Beukeboom, Uxbridge, Ont., Cowichan RFC; Fabiola Forteza, Quebec City, Club de rugby de Quebec; Karen Paquin, Quebec City, Club de rugby de Quebec/Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais (France); Sophie de Goede (capt.), Victoria, Castaway Wanderers RFC; Brianna Miller, Pointe-Claire, Que., Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC; Taylor Perry, Oakville, Ont., Oakville Crusaders; Paige Farries, Red Deer, Alta., Worcester Warriors (England); Alexandra Tessier, Sainte-Clotilde-de-Horton, Que., Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC; Sara Kaljuvee, Ajax, Ont., Toronto Scottish; Maddy Grant, Cornwall, Ont., University of Ottawa; Elissa Alarie, Trois-Rivières, Que., Westshore RFC.

Replacements

Gillian Boag, Calgary, Capilano RFC; Mikiela Nelson, North Vancouver, UBC Rugby/Capilano Rugby; Alex Ellis, Ottawa, Barrhaven Scottish/Saracens (England); Ngalula Fuamba, Notre Dame de-l'ile-Perrot, Que., Town of Mount Royal RFC; Emma Taylor, Scotsburn, N.S., Halifax RFC; Gabrielle Senft, Regina, Castaway Wanderers/Regina Rogues/Exeter Chiefs (England); Justine Pelletier, Riviere-du-Loup, Que., Club de rugby de Quebec; Julia Schell, Uxbridge, Ont., Guelph Redcoats/Castaway Wanderers.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press