Depth, an issue for the Canadian men’s rugby sevens squad, has not been a problem for Canadian women’s coach John Tait recently.
After missing some players for the season-opening event in Dubai, where Canada finished a disappointing sixth, Tait had more than he needed in Sydney. And he believes he has a star in the making in 20-year-old Hannah Darling.
Tait took 14 down to Australia, dropping two players to get to the 12-woman tournament squad. He could have taken 15, calling Caroline Crossley “a bit unlucky” not to make the travelling squad.
After finishing runner-up in its pool to powerful New Zealand, Canada tightened its defence on Day 2 and dispatched Russia 26-5 and Olympic champion Australia 12-7 before downing the Americans 21-17 in the final for its second Cup win in the last three tournaments.
Tait pointed to squad depth as a key factor.
“It’s one of the big things that helped us with the result (in Sydney),” he said. “We were able to really manage the minutes of some of the younger players and get them on the field â€” at crucial times â€” pretty fresh for Day 2 considering how hot it was. It was good to be able to spread that kind of workload across the 12 over the two days. It made a big difference for us when we got in those tight minutes against Australia and the U.S.A.”
As an example, Tait used veteran Ashley Steacy off the bench on Day 1 and started her on Day 2. It meant he had one of his best and most experienced defenders fresh for key games, helping create turnovers that kickstarted the Canadian offence.
Bianca Farella started Day 1 in the forwards then came off the bench on Day 2 with Darling getting the start.
“Different lineups â€” some of them were matchup-driven but a lot of it was just trying to balance the workload because the heat and humidity was so strong down there, we knew we couldn’t overplay seven or eight girls.”
Tait believes the sky’s the limit for Darling.
“Hannah, I think, is going to be in another couple of years time one of the best players in the world if she keeps on the track she’s on,” he said. “She’s phenomenal in the air and an aggressive tackler.”
Possession is crucial in the sevens game and the five-foot-eight Darling is a weapon at restarts, able to soar in the air for the ball.
“She can jump,” said the six-foot-eight Tait. “I hold the (tackle) bags for them in restarts (at practice) and I hold the bag up high because otherwise I’m going to have a knee in my face. She’s got a vertical leap on her, for sure.”
Former captain Jen Kish, who missed Dubai when a neck injury flared up again, was back to her best in Sydney.
“She had a great tournament,” said Tait. “I’m really happy for her because she worked really hard in rehabbing her injury.”
Like Steacy, Kish has been training on her own in Alberta, rather than in Victoria with the centralized group of players. Kish, another force on restarts, joined captain Ghislaine Landry and Britt Benn on the Sydney tournament all-star team.
The next stop on the HSBC Women’s Series is March 3-4 in Las Vegas, where Canada is in a pool with France, Russia and the winner of the Sudamerica Rugby Sevens. Canada will also bring a second team, the Maple Leafs, to Sin City under the direction of assistant coach Sandro Fiorino.
The two Canadian women’s teams will then take part in an invitational tournament in Vancouver that runs parallel to the men’s Canada Sevens the next week.
Tait expects one or two changes in his Las Vegas squad. Steacy, for one, will miss the U.S. stop because of her sister’s wedding.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press