Canada women’s rugby team faces elite opposition at Women’s Rugby Super Series

After seeing limited action since finishing fifth at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, Canada will test itself against the world’s best at the Women’s Rugby Super Series in Chula Vista, Calif.

The round-robin event, which runs Friday through July 14, features No. 1 New Zealand, No. 2 England, No. 3 Canada, No. 4 France and the fifth-ranked U.S.

“Two years away from the World Cup, it’s a great opportunity to see where we’re at and obviously build some momentum towards that,” said Canada coach Sandro Fiorino.

Canada opens Friday against New Zealand, which joins the field this year. The Canadian women have never beaten New Zealand in 14 attempts, dating back to 1991.

“It’s a stiff challenge to start. They don’t have a lot of holes in their program … They can beat you up front and they can beat you with the backline with speed and the creativity through their (Nos.) 9 and 10,” said Fiorino, referencing the Black Ferns’ scrum half and fly half.

“We just have to be patient with our defensive structure, put some pressure on them and hopefully create some turnovers and execute on those opportunities when they do come.”

The Canadian women went unbeaten in winning the last edition of the tournament three years ago with England finishing runner-up. The event has expanded to five teams with the addition of the five-time World Cup champion Black Ferns.

After New Zealand, Canada plays France on July 2, England on July 6 and the U.S on July 10, with all the games at the Elite Training Center in Chula Vista, a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site. The Canadians have the toughest schedule at the tournament, with their bye coming on the final day of competition, July 14 at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium.

“I know load management is a big word in Toronto,” said Fiorino, with a reference to the Raptors resting Kawhi Leonard during the NBA regular season. “We’re doing our best to manage the players’ loads through sports science and nutrition and recovery.”

Canada has brought 28 players to the tournament and will likely use all of them, with rotation planned for the first two games.

Veteran hooker Laura Russell captains the Canadian squad, which includes veterans Amanda Thornborough and vice-captain Elissa Alarie. The roster also features centre Sara Kaljuvee, who comes over from the sevens squad.

Former Canadian under-20 skipper Sophie de Goede, whose parents are former Canada rugby captains Hans de Goede and Stephanie White, will start at lock for her first cap. M.P. Fauteux could win her first cap off the bench.

Canada lost 48-5 when it met New Zealand in group play at the 2017 World Cup in Ireland. New Zealand defeated England 41-32 in the World Cup final while France downed the U.S. 31-23 for third place.

New Zealand’s matchday 23 Friday includes four uncapped players: No. 8 Pia Tapsell and replacements Luka Connor, Karli Faneva and Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu.

New Zealand’s starting 15 has a combined 322 caps with vice-captain Kendra Cocksedge, Eloise Blackwell, Selica Winiata and Renee Wickliffe accounting for 155 of them.

Cocksedge, the Black Ferns scrum half, could hit 50 caps at the tournament. She would join retired captain Fiao’o Faamausili as the only New Zealand women to reach the milestone.

Centre Carla Hohepa and prop Toka Natua return to action for the Black Ferns for the first time since the 2017 World Cup final in Belfast. The 33-year-old Hohepa had a baby during her rugby hiatus.

New Zealand coach Glenn Moore expects Canada to be a tough test.

“We know Canada has one of the best scrums — if not the best — scrum in the world and we know they like to be physical.” he said. “They’ve certainly got pace, so we expect them to bring a lot to the game.

“We’ve recovered well from our travel and have been preparing for this for months now. Everyone can’t wait to get out there and play.”

The New Zealand squad includes sevens players Kelly Brazier, Alena Saili and Theresa Fitzpatrick.

Canada is coming off a joint training camp with the U.S. in May at the University of Guelph.

Fiorino brought in the program’s top 40 players and fielded them in two split-squads against the Americans.

It was the first action for the Canadian women since a 2018 fall tour of the United Kingdom when they beat No. 12 Scotland 28-25 and No. 8 Wales 38-21 and lost 27-19 to England. A Canada ‘A’ side beat England ‘A’ 35-14.

Canada Roster

Olivia DeMerchant, Fredericton Loyalists, Mapledale, N.B. Laura Russell (capt.), Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont. DaLeaka Menin, Calgary Hornets, Vulcan, Alta. Courtney Holtkamp, Red Deer Titans, Rimbey, Alta. Sophie De Goede, Castaway Wanderers/Queens University, Victoria Fabiola Forteza, Club de Rugby de Quebec, Quebec City Janna Slevinky, Kingston Panthers, St. Albert, Alta. Gabrielle Senft, Castaway Wanderers, Regina Brianna Miller, Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, Point-Claire, Que. Alex Tessier, SABRFC, Sainte-Clotilde-de-Horton, Que. Elissa Alarie, Ste-Anne-De-Bellevue RFC/Westshore RFC, Trois Rivieres, Que. Sara Kaljuvee, Toronto Scottish, Pickering, Ont. Anais Holly, TMR RFC, Montreal Paige Farries, Westshore RFC, Red Deer, Alta. Irene Patrinos, Toronto Saracens, Mississauga, Ont.

Replacements

Gillian Boag, Capilano/UBC, Calgary Maude Laliberte Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City Veronica Harrigan, London St. George’s, Lucan, Ont. Jacey Grusnick, Barrhaven Scottish, Alliston, Ont. M.P. Fauteux, Abenakis de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Que. Sara Svoboda, Belleville Bulldogs/Toronto Saracens, Belleville, Ont. Lori Josephson, Guelph Redcoats, Beaverton, Ont. Alysha Corrigan, CRFC, Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Women’s Super Series Schedule (All times ET)

All games at Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center at Chula Vista, Calif., unless otherwise noted.

Friday, June 28

England vs. U.S., 4 p.m.

Canada vs. New Zealand, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, July 2

France vs. Canada, 5:15 p.m.

New Zealand vs. U.S., 8:15 p.m.

Saturday, July 6

France vs. New Zealand, 5:15 p.m.

Canada vs. England, 8:15 p.m.

Wednesday, July 10

England vs. France, 5:15 p.m.

Canada vs. U.S., 8:15 p.m.

Sunday, July 14

Torero Stadium, San Diego

New Zealand vs. England, 4 p.m.

France vs. U.S., 7 p.m.

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