When the Canadian women’s rugby team won the Nations Cup shortly after he took over the program last year, head coach François Ratier held a post-tournament meeting with his players.
He asked them what they wanted the team’s identity to be, and the players had the answers he was looking for. Ratier then chipped in himself by writing down the number of days left until the IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup final.
“What can we do every day to make it happen?” he recalled asking his players. “And now, we are here.”
Ratier was dreaming big at the time. Canada had never even reached the podium – never mind the championship game – in the six previous editions of the tournament.
Now, his team has a shot to win it all on Sunday against England at Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris.
“We have the passion, we have the rage, we want it,” Ratier said. “But then we just have to execute and do it.”
It has been an impressive run by the Canadians, who have finished fourth on three occasions and were coming off a sixth-place showing in 2010. England, meanwhile, is a 2010 runner-up and has never finished lower than third, winning it all in 1994.
The 2014 Canadian squad has surpassed expectations and they’ve done it by grinding down the opposition. Canada opened the tournament with comfortable wins over Spain and Samoa before fighting England to a 13-13 draw.
Next up was an impressive 18-16 victory over France in front of a sellout crowd that nearly boosted the host side to a comeback win. The Canadians held strong though, with Magali Harvey’s try standing up as the difference.
The Canadian team is a tough, united side that believes it belongs in the mix with the world’s best. Canada has proved that by playing a fast, physical brand of rugby and using a team-first mentality.
It takes Ratier back to that meeting a year ago after Canada’s 27-13 win over England to win the Nations Cup for the first time. It was a victory that he said started the players on their current journey.
He still remembers the terms the players used to describe the team’s identity.
“They came back with really simple words,” he said. “One of them was ‘Fearless.’ Which is great, because that’s what they are.”
Canada also defeated England 29-25 earlier in that tournament in Denver. England got some revenge a few months later by easily dismantling Canada 32-3 at the Twickenham Stoop in the final game of Canada’s European tour.
Harvey and captain Kelly Russell, both recently shortlisted for the women’s player of the year award, have continued their strong play in France. Both have been leaders for the Canadian side.
“We’ve put in the work, so we’re happy to be where we are,” Russell said of her squad. “We have one more goal to achieve here and that’s winning it.”
England lost to New Zealand in the past three finals, but the Black Ferns failed to advance from the pool stage this year.
“It’s a cliché, but we really have taken it one game at a time,” said England coach Gary Street. “If you had said to us at the start of the tournament that we would have the opportunity to play France or Canada in the final then of course, we would have taken it. We’re massively looking forward to [the final].”
England advanced with a 40-7 rout of Ireland, which will play France in the third-place game before the final. A packed house is expected and with France’s archrival providing the opposition in the championship game, there should be plenty of local support for Canada this time around.
“We are not nervous,” Ratier said. “We just trust ourselves and we’re going to play our best rugby. We’ll see it at the end if it’s a win or a loss.
“But for sure we’re going to leave everything on the field.”
With reports from the Associated Press