Bolstered by four high-profile additions from the sevens program, Canada takes on Ireland in a women’s rugby test match Saturday.
No. 8 Kelly Russell returns to her 15s role as captain while fellow sevens alumni Karen Paquin, Elissa Alarie and former World Rugby player of the year Magali Harvey also feature in coach Francois Ratier’s starting lineup at Dublin’s UCD Bowl.
All four were part of the 15s team that lost 21-9 to England in the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup final before switching to sevens. Ratier has wasted little time bringing them back into the fold.
“I want to give them a shot right away to make sure that they can jump in the program as quick as possible and then I will have a better idea of where they stand in the 15s,” Ratier said from Dublin, where it snowed Thursday.
Harvey led Canada with 61 points at the 2014 tournament and was subsequently named IRB Women’s Player of the year.
Ratier’s starting 15 against Ireland includes five other starters from the 2014 World Cup final. Two others were on the bench that day.
Canada dropped to No. 3 in the world rankings this week, knocked down a peg by England after victories over No. 4 France and No. 5 Ireland. New Zealand remains No. 1.
But Canada comes into the game on the back of July wins over England, France and the host Americans in the Women’s Rugby Super Series.
Russell and Paquin helped Canada to the bronze medal in Rio this summer. Alarie was a travelling reserve while a disgruntled Magali was left at home.
Emily Belchos and Kayla Mack, also veterans of the 2014 World Cup, were released from the sevens program earlier this year.
Belchos starts at flanker Saturday with Mack at lock. Paquin starts at flanker with Alarie and Harvey on the wings. Laura Russell, Kelly’s younger sister, starts at hooker. She captained the side in her sister’s absence.
Irish coach Tom Tierney has made 10 changes, including new caps Anna Caplice and Nichola Fryday, from the team that lost 12-10 to England last weekend.
“This weekend, Canada will present us with a new and different challenge,” Tierney was quoted on the Irish Rugby Football Union website. “We know England well from playing them in the Six Nations, but this week’s opposition are less familiar to us.
“They have a very strong rugby program in Canada and were runners-up at the last World Cup, so we will have to play smart rugby against them and stick to our game plan.”
The Irish game is the first of three in a week for Canada, which takes on New Zealand next Wednesday in Dublin, and England on Nov. 26 in Twickenham.
Canada thumped Ireland 57-0 the last time they met, at the 2002 Women’s Rugby World Cup. Ireland won their only other meeting, 15-8 in 2006.
Ratier expects a good challenge, with Ireland playing host to the 2017 World Cup.
“We saw them play last weekend against England so we know it’s going to be physical,” he said. “And we know the crowd will be behind them.”