Rugby sevens skipper Jen Kish returns to action this week for the first time since leading Canada to Olympic bronze.
The 28-year-old from Edmonton makes her HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series season debut in Sydney after missing the first event in Dubai with a neck injury.
Coach John Tait took an expanded 14-woman training squad to Australia, the second stop of the six-event circuit.
Kish draws into the 12-woman’s squad at the expense of Sara Kaljuvee, who was part of the team that finished sixth in Dubai in December. Kaili Lukan, younger sister of team member Megan Lukan, awaits her series debut.
The Canadians arrived Down Under last week, with scrimmages against Ireland and Australia in the leadup to the tournament.
“We knew the temperatures in Victoria and Sydney were going to be drastically different so we planned early on to get down here a week early to adapt better and get a run out against Ireland and Australia,” Tait said in a statement.
“We brought 14 in case of any knocks picked up in scrimmages or training and the 12 selected, we believe, will give us lots of options and firepower off the bench. In this heat it is going to take a real group effort to achieve top performances over the two days.”
Following Rio, Tait lost Olympians Kelly Russell, Karen Paquin, Elissa Alarie and Olympic alternate Magali Harvey to the 15s national team.
Kish sat out the Dubai tournament after aggravating a neck injury sustained in France when she was slammed to the turf in the final event of last season.
“We definitely missed her presence in Dubai, in particular at the restarts and breakdown where she is so effective,” said Tait. “She has done a lot of work back home getting herself back to full fitness along with rehabbing the injury that kept her out of the last round.”
Like fellow veteran Ashley Steacy, Kish is no longer centralized with the sevens squad in Langford, B.C., and trains on her own before joining the team for tournaments.
Restored to health, Kish’s post-Olympic regimen included trying her hand at bobsledding.
Canada has been drawn into Pool A with top-seeded New Zealand, France and Papua New Guinea. The women’s tournament runs Friday-Saturday but starts Thursday night Canadian time.
The men play Saturday-Sunday in Sydney, the fourth stop of their 10-event HSBC World Sevens Series. The Canadian men are coming off a season-best fourth place in Wellington, New Zealand, on the weekend.
New Zealand won the opening women’s event in Dubai, defeating Australia 17-5 in the final.
The Canadian women downed Brazil, Spain and England on Day 1 but were beaten 17-7 by Russia in the Cup quarter-final to open Day 2. Canada beat South Africa 19-12 before falling 17-14 to Fiji in a fifth-place game in which Canada led 14-7 at the half.
“We are in way better shape,” said Tait. “We knew Dubai was going to be tough post-Rio, with athletes taking a much deserved break but now I am excited for Sydney because the whole team put in a lot of hard work over Christmas and throughout January to get back to contesting for a cup.
“No doubt other teams will be better as well but when this group clicks it’s going to take a lot to stop them.”
Britt Benn, Guelph Redcoats, Napanee, Ont.; Hannah Darling, Peterborough Pagans, Warsaw, Ont.; Bianca Farella, Town of Mont Royal, Montreal; Julia Greenshields, Sarnia Saints, Sarnia, Ont.; Jen Kish, Edmonton Rockers, Edmonton; Ghislaine Landry, Toronto Scottish, Toronto; Megan Lukan, unattached, Barrie, Ont.; Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Breanne Nicholas, London St. Georges, Blenheim, Ont.; Ashley Steacy, Lethbridge Rugby Club, Lethbridge, Alta.; Natasha Watcham-Roy, Hull Volant, Gatineau, Que.; Charity Williams, Markham Irish, Toronto.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press