After a nearly three-month break in the calendar, 12 of the top women’s teams in the world return to British Columbia this weekend for the fifth round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022.
Taking place at Starlight Stadium, formally known as Westhills Stadium, in Langford, all eyes will be on Australia who are in the drivers’ seat to potentially secure their third Series title and first since 2018.
Having won three of the first four tournaments of the 2022 Series, Australia have a comfortable 18-point lead atop the standings heading into the penultimate round.
However, due to travel restrictions put in place from the pandemic, not every team has had the chance to compete in each round of the Series. Therefore, the 2022 Series champion will be decided by an accumulation of points from each team’s best four events out of six.
With Fiji winning the silver medal on two occasions in Dubai, they are still in contention to challenge Australia for the title. For Australia, the scenario is simple, make the Cup final in Langford this weekend and they will be crowned as champions regardless of what happens in the season finale in Toulouse on 20-22 May.
While Australia’s fate is in their own hands, 2016 Olympic gold medallist and current DHL Performance Tracker leader Charlotte Caslick says that is not their main focus.
“We’ve addressed that it’s a possibility we could come away with a World Series win, but we haven't changed anything we’re doing,” said co-captain Caslick ahead of the tournament. “We’re sticking to the same processes that we’ve been doing throughout the whole season.”
With Australia’s side boasting several talented youngsters, Caslick acknowledges how monumental a win would be for the continued growth of rugby back home.
“Some of our younger girls have really stepped up lately – Madi [Ashby], Faith [Nathan], Maddi [Levi] – and are key parts of our team and they’re getting better and better, which is exciting,” she added.
“It would be the first-ever World Series win for some of the girls, so it’s a pretty big deal.”
Australia have scored 653 points while conceding only 181 across the first four rounds in Dubai and Spain.
“We have a massive focus on defence because we’re obviously not the biggest team on the Series so we do get targeted a lot in that area of the game,” Caslick told World Rugby. “We use that as motivation to prove a point that if we’re technically good and we have the intent to make tackles we will and we know that if we defend well, we’re capable of scoring points so we just have to make sure we win our defensive battles.”
Australia have only lost two matches this season thus far, to Russia and France. However, with two stops left on the Series, and Australia’s traditional rivals the Black Ferns Sevens returning to competition for the first time in more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Caslick acknowledges the competition will be stiff.
“Having New Zealand, as well as Fiji, back on the Series, we know they’re going to bring a really competitive game,” Caslick explained. “We know as soon as they come back they’re going to be probably just as good, if not better, as when they left, so we’re excited to hopefully match up against them and Fiji at some stage.”
Australia open their Langford campaign against invitational team Mexico on Saturday at 11:20 local time (GMT -7) before further Pool A encounters against Spain and hosts Canada.
THEY'RE HOME! 🇨🇦— HSBC Canada Sevens (@CanadaSevens) April 26, 2022
Canada Women's Sevens team members return home after a successful trip to the Bahamas 🇧🇸 and are fired up to compete at HSBC Women's Canada Sevens in Langford, BC this weekend, April 30-May 1! 🔥
Get Tickets Now 👉 https://t.co/1C7Tc5qv9R#Canada7s | #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/5sdpxTYNXG
Flight booked to Cape Town
It will be a triumphant return to Starlight Stadium and their national training centre for Canada after dominating this past weekend’s Rugby Americas North Sevens Qualifiers in Nassau, Bahamas to book their ticket to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in South Africa in September.
Utilising their extensive experience on the World Series and two-month preparation block leading into the event, the Canadians waltzed through the pool stages without conceding a point and easily handled Mexico 33-0 in the championship final at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
Elissa Alarie, who won a silver medal with Canada in Moscow at the 2013 edition of RWC Sevens, has excitedly circled 9-11 September in her calendar.
“It’s huge for us to qualify [for RWC Sevens],” Alarie said in a recent interview with World Rugby. “Obviously during the COVID-19 pandemic there was a long while where we couldn’t play, so to have a big year with a lot of rugby is everything we’ve ever dreamed of.”
When USA takes on Fiji in the opening match on Saturday, it will mark the end to a 1,083-day wait since the last women’s Series stop took place on Canadian soil.
Canada have never tasted victory in Langford and are hoping to use their passionate fan base as an eighth-player this weekend as they return from a successful weekend in the Caribbean.
“We’re honestly so excited to be able to play in front of our home crowd,” added the 2020 Olympian. “The team has really been able to focus these last eight weeks and really work hard together.”