Impossible to predict battle for Olympic qualification - Day
Commentator Sue Day ponders what it will take for a side to end New Zealand's unbeaten run and the battle for Olympic qualification ahead of the Canada Sevens.
Despite the gap closing in the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series standings, the fact remains that only New Zealand, Australia and England have ever won a round of the series since it began in late 2012.
Canada came close when they got to the final against New Zealand in Amsterdam in the inaugural season, but if ever they have a chance to go all the way, it’s on home soil in Langford, British Columbia, this weekend.
Despite missing talismanic captain Jen Kish, who is out with a leg injury sustained during the last round in Atlanta, the Canadians are bolstered by good weather, good form and a home crowd that promises to pack the Westhills Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.
“Our team is really excited, we can’t wait to get the games started and it’s great to host all the teams at this beautiful place (in Langford) where we train every day,” said stand-in captain and playmaker Ashley Steacy.
"We want to make it to the Cup final, especially at our own tournament here in Canada."
Speaking as the team captains gathered in front of the assembled media on a sunny afternoon in downtown Victoria, Steacy admits that this is a massive opportunity for Canada to do something they've never done before.
“We’re pretty confident. Obviously our goal is to take our own tournament. We’ve been pretty consistently third and have moved up in the points difference and we’re closing the gap between the top two teams, New Zealand and Australia.
“We’ve been hammering down our defence every day since Atlanta and we’re cleaning up our passing and making sure it’s crisper.”
So with all the talk of claiming a first title in Westhills Stadium, has the quest for Olympic qualification been pushed back for just one weekend?
“This whole year has been about getting into the Olympics, and it’s our main purpose to qualify in the top four. But yeah, we want to make it to the Cup final, especially at our own tournament here in Canada,” said Steacy.
Australia are not worrying about now being joint second with Canada in the standings following their Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of hosts USA in Atlanta and are determined to bounce back this weekend.
“Obviously what happened in Atlanta is a bit disappointing, we are a better team than that,” said captain Sharni Williams.
“It was about composure, but it’s now about completions. We had a lot of attack, last time out, but we didn’t complete them by scoring, so that’s what we’re about this weekend.”
Australia will miss the influence of World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year 2014 Emilee Cherry who is injured, but Williams insists it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up.
“Obviously Emilee will be a massive loss, she’s a great player, a great finisher and we’ll definitely miss her, but we have a lot of growth in our team and there’s going to be a lot of girls ready to step up. It’s an opportunity for someone else.”
England are also missing the reassuring presence of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Danielle Waterman, who picked up a knock Atlanta. The English went home from the USA with heads bowed after losses to Australia, Russia and Canada, however, captain Abi Chamberlain is confident her team can get back on track in Canada.
“We sat down and had a big honesty call after Atlanta. We looked at each other and looked within ourselves,” she said.
“There’s no secret in what went wrong. We didn’t defend as well as we could and we didn’t attack as well as we could, and the result shows. But the benefit of it being so evident is that it’s an easy work-on.
“We’ve sat down, we’ve re-grouped and we’re in a good place. Our focus is on us and playing our own game.”
Meanwhile New Zealand will edge even closer to Olympic qualification, as well as a third series win in as many years, if they walk away with the spoils in Canada this weekend.
Sarah Goss, who led her team from the front through tournament wins in Dubai, Sao Paulo and Atlanta, thinks this weekend could be New Zealand’s toughest challenge to date.
“I would say Canada will bring it this weekend. They’re a quality side wherever they play but in their home town with the support behind them, I’m sure they’re going to be tough. If we do get to play them on Sunday it’s going to be an exciting match.”
Goss admits that the competition within the squad is driving New Zealand to raise the bar further every match.
“I think Sean (Horan) nailed it on the head when he said it was the hardest team he ever had to pick. The quality of competition in our programme at the moment, and with people coming back from injury, means it’s tough and there’s no guarantees.”
A small amount of tickets for round four of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series on Saturday and Sunday are still available here.
If you can’t make it to Westhills Stadium in British Columbia, find out where you can watch the action by clicking here. All the action will be streamed on www.worldrugby.org, however geo-blocking will apply in New Zealand and in the UK. TSN in Canada will broadcast the best of the action over the weekend to Canadian viewers.