Rugby Canada senior women’s team hopefuls run through drills during the women’s west camp held at Shawnigan Lake School last week. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Rugby Canada senior women’s team hopefuls run through drills during the women’s west camp held at Shawnigan Lake School last week. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

National women’s rugby team hunts for players on Vancouver Island

Young Island stars among three dozen invitees to western Canada camp, hosted in Shawnigan Lake

The next Women’s Rugby World Cup won’t be held until 2021, but Canada’s preparations are already underway, and included a camp at Shawnigan Lake School last week.

Newly appointed head coach Sandro Fiorino oversaw the camp last week, which included about three dozen players from across Western Canada, as well as a few from Eastern Canada who weren’t able to attend a similar camp in Ontario a week earlier.

“It’s a long way away,” Fiorino said of the 2021 World Cup. “But we have to start with camps like this.”

Canada has finished in the top five at five of the last six World Cups, including second in 2014 and fifth in 2017, and a podium finish has become the expectation.

Fiorino was pleased with the mix of players on hand at Shawnigan last week.

“We have a great group of veteran players with World Cup experience,” he commented. “And some up-and-coming USports players and exceptional age-grade players.”

Fiorino was officially named Canada’s head coach less than two weeks prior to the camp, although he had been interim head coach since last November, and has also worked with several of the players in the national sevens program with head coach John Tait of Mill Bay.

Rugby Canada is looking to take about 30 players on a fall tour to the U.K., but the 2021 World Cup in the ultimate goal.

“Ideally, in the next few years, we will reduce this group as we go toward the World Cup,” Fiorino said. “This is an opportunity early in the cycle to put standards in place so players know what we want.”

Many of the players at last week’s camp will be representing their provinces at the 2018 senior women’s and age-grade Canadian Rugby Championships in Saskatchewan next month, providing yet another opportunity for the coaches to see them in action.

The invitees to last week’s camp included many senior-age players, but also several from the U20 and U18 ranks, who Fiorino believes are important to include.

“For them to integrate at an early age is better,” he said. “Besides making them better rugby players, they learn leadership, and skills they can take back to their age-grade national teams.”

Players from Vancouver Island at the camp included Victoria’s Sophie de Goede, Ladysmith’s Kara Galbraith, and Tyson Beukeboom, an Ontario transplant who plays with the Cowichan Rugby Football Club. Another Ontario player with Cowichan ties, Laura Russell, took part in the eastern camp.

The youngest player at the western camp was Rori Wood, who hails from Sooke and plays for Westshore RFC of Langford. Fiorino describes Wood as tall and strong, with the size of a forward, pace and skill of a back. Primarily a lock, she does occasionally play in the back row as well.

“It’s important that we get players like that opportunities early in their career,” he said.

Wood’s high school, Edward Milne, didn’t have a team this year. Only nine players attended tryouts, she noted, and three of them were injured, putting even a sevens team out of reach. The high school provincial championships were taking place in Williams Lake at the same time as the western camp at Shawnigan, but Wood was happy to be where she was.

“It’s been a really big change from high school and [the provincial team] to the best of the best,” she said. “It’s a big eye-opener. It’s a great experience being around such talented and experienced players, too.”

Wood learned pretty quickly that her strength and fitness weren’t quite at the same level as the senior women’s players.

“At the high school and provincial level, I can get by, but here I can’t,” she said. “I’ve been working out, but maybe not as much as I should be.”

Now wrapping up Grade 12, Wood is bound for UBC next year, but her long-term vision includes sticking around with the national program.

“My ultimate goal is to make the national team,” she said. “And to try and be the best player I can be.”