By NEIL DAVIDSON
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Friday, October 19, 2018
TORONTO -- While the Canadian men's sevens side butts heads off the field with Rugby Canada, the Canadian women open their season Saturday in Glendale, Colo.
The U.S. stop is the first of six on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, which this season comes with the promise of Olympic qualification for the top four finishers.
Australia won the 2017-18 title with Canada finishing a disappointing fourth after an injuryplagued campaign. The Canadian women were third in four of the five previous seasons, with a second-place finish in 2014-15.
The 10-event men's series kicks off Nov. 30 in Dubai. The Canadian men are currently a no-show at training, upset with Rugby Canada over their proposed player contract and training conditions.
Coach John Tait enters the season without Hannah Darling, who recently announced her retirement. The 22-year-old stepped away from the game last season for personal reasons and has since decided to return to school.
Former captain Jen Kish, Natasha Watcham-Roy and Megan Luken have also moved on.
All four players were part of the Canadian team that won bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
But Tait's side is healthier than it was prior to the start of last season when Bianca Farella, Sara Kaljuvee, Charity Williams and Kaili Luken (Megan's younger sister) were all sidelined by injury.
"This year we're starting the year off healthy and I think we have a lot more depth," Tait said.
His team played virtually no games outside of the World Series stops last season because it had so many players injured. Training was also disrupted.
"I think that affected our defence big-time," he said. "You need live reps to be good and confident."
The Canadians were also hurt by an 11th-place showing at the tournament in Japan, which only earned them two points. The French, who finished third over all in the season standings by six points over Canada, collected 18 points in Japan by finishing runner-up.
Australia won the season title with 92 points, two ahead of fourtime champion New Zealand.
Late-season injuries to captain Ghislaine Landry, the all-time women's leading points scorer with 984, and Britt Benn did not help the Canadian cause.
"You have to keep it in perspective. We hardly had a consistent lineup through whole year," Tait said.
On the plus side, Tait got to blood some young players on the circuit.
The retirements have opened the way for the likes of 21-year-old Pam Buisa, a wrecking ball of a player who turned heads late last season when she steamrollered several tacklers.
The Canadian women geared up for the season with a training camp in France that saw games against Belgium, Ireland and France.
They open Saturday against Fiji, Ireland and France.