The Canadian women’s rugby team heads for Fiji on Thursday for a final test match and camp before landing in New Zealand for the Oct. 8 start of the World Cup.
They leave on a high, moving up one spot in the world rankings this week to No. 3 behind top-ranked England and New Zealand.
But that rise comes courtesy of Italy, one of Canada’s World Cup opponents. Italy rebounded from a 21-0 loss to France to win the rematch 26-19 last Friday, a victory that moved Italy above the U.S. to fifth in the World Rugby rankings. France dropped to fourth with Canada replacing it in third.
The Canadians beat Italy 34-24 when they met July 24 in Langford, B.C. They then downed No. 9 Wales 31-3 on Aug. 27 in Halifax in their final warmup on home soil.
The team flies from Vancouver to Los Angeles and then to Fiji, where they will play the 21st-ranked Fijians on Sept. 23 in Suva. The Canadians will leave for New Zealand and the 12-country tournament two days later.
“We are going in the right direction,” said Canada coach Kevin Rouet. “I see the girls start to be confident. I like that but I won’t say we’re fully ready now. We still have 3 1/2 weeks to fine-tune everything.”
Canada opens Pool B play Oct. 9 against 13th-ranked Japan in Whangarei before facing Italy on Oct. 16 and the U.S. on Oct. 23 (New Zealand time), both in Auckland.
“Our pool is quite balanced … Every game is going to be a challenge. And that’s what we need,” said Rouet, noting Japan just beat No. 8 Ireland.
Backrower Sophie de Goede captains Canada. Veterans on the 32-woman squad include former skipper Laura Russell (53 caps), Tyson Beukeboom and Olivia deMerchant (49 each) and Elissa Alarie (40).
Veteran flanker Karen Paquin, who helped Canada to bronze in rugby sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics and competed last summer in Tokyo, is looking forward to her third World Cup.
She says turnover in both the roster and staff have resulted in a “refreshing” atmosphere. Those on the squad have worked hard to get there, with many moving to England or France to continue their rugby when the sport was in lockdown back home during the pandemic.
“The culture is slightly different … but the commitment over the past couple of years, with COVID — the people that really wanted it, they really put the effort in whether they were in Canada or out of Canada,” said Paquin, who played in France for Stade Bordelais where the French-born Rouet doubled as an assistant coach.
“Everybody knew that if we wanted to have a chance at that World Cup, we need to double-up the effort. It’s such a strong and driven group.”
Runner-up to England in the 2014 World Cup, Canada has a 21-16-2 record at the World Cup — outscoring its opposition 947-636 over the previous eight editions.
The Canadian women finished fourth at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 tournaments, serving as host in 2006. They were fifth in 2017 in Ireland.
The New Zealand tournament was originally scheduled to run Sept. 18 to Oct. 16 last year but was postponed due to the pandemic. The host Black Ferns have won five of the last six tournaments including the most recent five years ago.
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press