Canada's National Senior Women's Sevens team suffered an early morning setback in their quest to regain the coveted IRB Challenge Cup; but later rebounded to position themselves well, heading into Sunday's action, in London England.
The Canadians started well in their first match, quickly running in a score against The Netherlands; a team against which Canada has often had contests in the past. The Canadians were able to take a 14 - 12 lead in to the dying seconds, before a penalty deep in their own end gifted the Dutch a kick at goal for the win. The shock 15 - 14 loss meant that Canada could do no better than to finish fourth on day one; but to do that they would need to rack up big results against both Portugal and Russia.
Portugal is a new entry into international women's rugby competition and the Canadians had no difficulty dispatching them in match number two. It is one of the peculiarities of Sevens tournaments that points differential often plays an important role in determining tournament rankings, and the Canadians were ruthless in pursuing the largest possible margin of victory. A 54 - 0 win against the Portuguese took Canada to a 1 - 1 record on Saturday, before they ended their day against a tough Russian side.
Canadian veteran Mandy Marchak called the team's match against Russia at the Hong Kong Sevens, one of the most physical contests she could remember. So it was with a sense of mission that Canada entered their final fixture of day one; knowing that a big win was needed to secure them the best possible draw on Sunday.
It did not take long for Marchak and her teammates to stamp their authority on the match. Nineteen first half-points were followed by a pair of scores in the second, to see Canada overpower their Russian opponents 29 - 0. The margin of victory was enough to provide the women with fourth position and the match-up they wanted on Sunday morning; when they will take on South Africa, who finished fifth.
Head Coach John Tait had these words regarding his team's performance on day one, in London.
"Obviously we did not get the start we wanted against The Netherlands. They are a well-drilled team that has run us close a few times in the last year. It was not a case of us taking them lightly, but of errors in our own execution that compounded into scores for them.
The way our team bounced back in the last two games was good to see, and we started to play the way we have been wanting to. We worked hard and gathered enough scores to draw us against South Africa on Sunday morning. They have a few flyers in their squad, but we will look to use our fitness and increase the tempo of the match to suit our style."
Should the result against South Africa go Canada's way, the team will then likely be handed a chance to seek revenge against England; the team that defeated them in the Semi-Final of the Hong Kong tournament, last March. Tait was excited that his squad have positioned themselves to possibly take the field against England again, this time at the home of English rugby, Twickenham Stadium, where the semi-final and Grand Final will be played.
"Without looking past South Africa, I can say that we have managed to put ourselves in the position we wanted to be in. If we do our jobs, we will have the chance to play England again on their home ground of Twickenham, in front of tens of thousands of people. With the larger stadium pitch, we will be able to use our speed and fitness against them. Being at home and being the defending Challenge Cup holders, the pressure will all be on them."
Canada's women will spend Saturday night reviewing video footage of their own performances and those of their likely opponents, but the highlight reel that will motivate them most is the defeat at Hong Kong that has been burned into their memories.
Canada's women's sevens stars have been waiting for months for another crack at England and an opportunity to regain their place atop the world of Sevens rugby. Tomorrow will be their chance.