Canada enters the HSBC Canada Sevens this weekend in Langford, B.C., as the hottest team in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, looking to punch its ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Canadian women won all six matches en route to hoisting the Cup last month in Kitakyushu, Japan, edging England 7-5 in a nail-biter that stretched some two minutes after the final whistle.
Their last loss was Feb. 1, when they were beaten 17-7 by New Zealand in the quarterfinals in Sydney.
John Tait’s team hopes to keep rolling this weekend on home soil in the penultimate event on the six-stop circuit with only Biarritz, France, remaining in mid-June.
The top four teams in the standings secure automatic Olympic qualification. Canada currently sits second with 66 points, six behind New Zealand. The U.S. is third with 64, ahead of Australia at 56 and France at 46.
Basically Canada needs to maintain or extend its existing lead over France coming out of at the Langford event.
The maximum points on offer at a tournament is 20 for the winner with the last-place team picking up one point. So Canada will not be able to be caught by the French if it goes to the final stop of the season with a 20-point lead.
Ireland (38 points), England (37) and Russia (34), who stand sixth through eighth, could still mathematically catch Canada but would likely need to win both remaining events and have Canada collapse in both — a scenario not likely to happen.
Tait has not bothered with the numbers.
"Our goal has been the same since the start of the season, just to make sure that we get in that top four and take one of those Olympic qualifying places as soon as we can," he said. "Ideally that happens in this tournament and then the last tournament we may be able to use that as a chance to try some new things and maybe some new players."
The right results and Canada could also challenge New Zealand for top spot in the standings.
"We’ll have a real clear picture after Langford where we sit in terms of the overall Series … But first things first," Tait added. "We just want to make sure we build on that performance in Kitakyushu."
Canada also earned automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where it won bronze.
Olympic runner-up New Zealand won the first three tournaments of the season before injuries took their toll and the team stumbled to a fifth-place finish in Japan. But the Black Ferns will be bolstered this weekend by the return of Michaela Blyde and Kelly Brazier from injury.
A 17-17 tie with Russia in pool play at Kitakyushu ended New Zealand’s World Series winning streak at 37 matches — tying its own record set in 2014-15 — and 51 in all competitions. Losses to France and the U.S. then knocked the Black Ferns out of medal contention.
New Zealand remains without star strike runner Portia Woodman, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Canada opens Saturday against unranked Brazil before facing No. 6 Ireland and No. 4 Australia.
The Canadian women are 8-0-1 against Brazil, 12-2-0 against Ireland and 10-15-0 against Olympic champion Australia.
Canada captain Ghislaine Landry is the circuit’s all-time leading scorer with 1,127 and tops the season scoring list with 143 points. Teammate Bianca Farella leads all try-scorers this season with 24 — and ranks third all-time with 125.
Britt Benn, Guelph Redcoats, Napanee, Ont., Emma Chown, Aurora Barbarians, Barrie, Ont., Caroline Crossley, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Bianca Farella, Town of Mount Royal RCF, Montreal; Julia Greenshields, Sarnia Saints, Sarnia, Ont.; Ghislaine Landry (capt.), Toronto Scottish, Toronto; Kaili Lukan, unattached, Barrie, Ont., Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Breanne Nicholas, London St. Georges RFC, Blenheim, Ont.; Karen Paquin, Castaway Wanderers, Quebec City; Keyara Wardley, Okotoks Lions, Vulcan, Alta.; Charity Williams, Markham Irish, Toronto.