Canada's women's Sevens rugby team have defended their crown at the 2012 Amsterdam Sevens after beating the United States in a thrilling Grand Final on Sunday.
After winning the same tournament convincingly in 2011, the Canadians knew the road was likely to be more difficult this time around. This year's competition in Amsterdam marked the first time that all twelve of the world's top-ranked Sevens teams would be in attendance at the same tournament and yet the Canadians proved equal to the challenge.
Having finished third at the London Sevens event the week before, losing a heartbreaking sudden-death semi-final to England, Canada were excited to take the field in Holland at a venue where they had experienced so much success in the past.
There were several X-factors which could have caused the Canadians to stumble along the way. Firstly, several of the top teams in attendance in Amsterdam, such as Canada's pool opponents from Ireland and Spain, were fresh, having opted not to attend the London event the week prior.
Sevens rugby is an incredibly draining sport, and the advantage of fielding a fresh and rested squad against a team in the midst of recovering cannot be overstated. In addition, many of the tournament's European entries, such as Ireland, Scotland and Wales, were competing in their first major international event and were therefore unknown quantities to head coach John Tait and his squad.
Still, when Toronto's Cheryl Phillips saw her country past Ireland, with three incredible tries in Canada's first match on Saturday, the team could be confident they had avoided the slow start, which had plagued them the week before.
As if to signal that the fatigue being experienced by many teams was of no consequence, Canada went on to put an experienced French side to the sword in match two, posting the day's largest margin of victory before downing Spain by a score of 19-10 to close out Saturday with a perfect record.
The road would get no easier for a Canadian side that had played close to a dozen tournament matches in two weeks. Increasingly, the women would have to rely on the extensive physical conditioning they have undertaken at Rugby Canada's new Centre of Excellence in Langford, B.C.
Canada had only lost two matches at the London Sevens the week before and, indeed, there are only two national teams that can boast of wins over Canada in the previous calendar year; those being England and the Netherlands. That night, the Canadians were informed that they were scheduled to face both arch-rivals in their side of the tournament draw on Sunday.
The next morning, there were no signs of the early jitters that had seen Canada drop a close contest to the Netherlands in London. Rapid-fire scores from Ghislaine Landry, Brittany Waters, Julianne Zussman and Edmonton's Jenn Kish helped demolish the Dutch and saw Canada move on with an impressive score-line of 24-7.
Up next was perhaps Canada's biggest rivals in England. Once again, the game between these two powerhouses of women's rugby was thrilling and exhausting for players and fans alike. Fourteen minutes of Sevens rugby saw both teams collapse to the turf, deadlocked at twelve points apiece, the same score that provoked a sudden death decider in London seven days ago. However, this time there would be no overtime heartbreak for Canada. The 12-12 draw by itself was enough to see the women through to the Grand Final, by virtue of their undefeated record on Sunday.
Only an upstart United States team, which had upset Australia and England on their way to the tournament final, now stood in Canada's path.
Canadian rugby players need no additional incentive to ready themselves for games against the United States, and with the opportunity to repeat as Tournament Champions on the line, Canada would not be denied. The Grand Final was high drama.
After allowing the USA to score off the opening kick-off, American star Venesha McGee touched down to build a 14-5 lead for her country heading into half-time but the Americans were not done. Another score at the beginning of the second half gave the USA a seemingly insurmountable 19-5 lead with only nine minutes to play.
It was then that Canada turned the match on its head. A pair of second-half scores by veteran star Mandy Marchak clawed Canada back to a 19-17 score-line, with only seconds to play. With players all across the field gasping for oxygen, it was Lethbridge, Alberta product Ashley Steacy who found the necessary energy to score.
The 26-19 victory is Canada's first tournament win since the 2012 Las Vegas Sevens in February, where they also defeated the United States. The team finishes its European tour with a third-place finish in London and the Championship trophy from the most competitive women's sevens tournament in recent memory.
Canada's Record At The Amsterdam Sevens
Saturday, May 19th (Day #1)
Canada (15) - Ireland (5)
Canada (33) - France (0)
Canada (19) - Spain (10)
Sunday May 20th (Day #2)
Canada (24) - The Netherlands (7)
Canada (12) - England (12)
Canada (26) - The United States (19)
Supporters can watch all of Canada's recorded matches in Amsterdam at the tournament's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/amsterdamsevens
The National Women's Sevens team is proudly sponsored by Macquarie Financial, with additional support from Own the Podium.
2012 London/Amsterdam Sevens Squad
Jessica Dovanne - Velox Valkyries (Victoria, BC)
Megan Gibbs - Markham Irish Canadians (Barrie, ON)
Magali Harvey - Rugby de Quebec / St. F.X. University (Quebec, QC)
Jen Kish - Edmonton Rockers (Edmonton, AB)
Ghislaine Landry - Toronto Scottish RFC (Toronto, ON)
Mandy Marchak - Capilano RFC (North Vancouver, BC / Winnipeg, MN)
Kayla Moleschi - Lethbridge RFC / U of Lethbridge (Williams Lake, BC)
Cheryl Phillips - Toronto Scottish RFC (Toronto, ON)
Kelly Russell - Toronto Nomads (Bolton, ON)
Ashley Steacy - Lethbridge RFC (Lethbridge, AB)
Brittany Waters - Meraloma Athletic Club (Vancouver, BC)
Kelsey Willoughby - Lethbridge RFC / U of Lethbridge (Lethbridge, AB)
Julianne Zussman- Town of Mount Royal RFC, (Montreal, QB)
John Tait- Head Coach
Sandro Fiorino- Assistant Coach
Kristy Martin Hale- Manager
Kim Oslund – Therapist
Tyler Goodale - Strength & Conditioning Coach
Jeff Hull - Press Officer