Skip to main content

Gillian Florence #6 of Canada slides across the grass as she scores a try against Spain during day two of the Women's Rugby World Cup 2006 at St. Albert Rugby Football Club on September 4, 2006 in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada. Canada defeated Spain by a score of 79-0. (Photo by Tim Smith/Getty Images)Tim Smith/Getty Images

Gillian Florence continues to make rugby history in an international career that stretches across five World Cups, 60-plus Test matches and more than 16 years.

The 35-year-old flanker from Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., looks to add to that rugby resume Saturday when Canada takes on France in Guildford, England, with a semi-final berth at the Women's Rugby World Cup on the line.

Florence earns her 64th cap Saturday, no small feat considering the game represents Canada's 85th Test match since it began playing in 1987.

"She's the ultimate professional," said Canadian coach John Long. "Everything she does, she does well."

When Florence speaks, people listen, he added.

"She's definitely a leader by what she does on that field and she's an integral part of the team."

Florence renews acquaintances Saturday with an old foe in third-seeded France, which has relegated the No. 4 Canadian women to fourth place at the last two tournaments.

Both teams are 2-0, but Canada leads Pool C with a maximum 10 points after securing bonus points for scoring four tries in wins over Scotland and Sweden.

France has eight points from much closer wins.

"They're unpredictable," Florence said. "Given their pool games in what we've seen in the video, they haven't looked very good but that's typical of France. They won't look very good in one instance and then two days later they're magic."

Florence is part of a group of select women who have played in five World Cups. American Patty Jervey had been the only woman to achieve that honour but now has been joined by Florence, New Zealand fly half Anna Richards, Scotland back-row forward Donna Kennedy and Kazakhstan flanker Olga Rudoy.

Florence, who turned 35 in April, is the baby of the group. Rudoy is 47, Richards 45 and Kennedy 38.

Florence, then a prop, made her debut for Canada in a 28-0 win over Kazakhstan at the 1994 World Cup in Scotland.

"It only seems like yesterday," she recalled in an interview with The Canadian Press. "Time seems to fly.

"It's like when you're a teenager and you can't wait to grow up and get older and your mom's like 'Enjoy the time. It's goes fast.' And you think they're full of crap," she added with a laugh.

"But it definitely does."

She has not missed a World Cup since, playing in 1998, 2002, 2006 and now 2010. Her only time off has been injury-enforced or the occasional coach's decision.

Florence has had surgery on her shoulder three times and her knee once. She says she is at 100 per cent these days, thanks to her last bout of arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

Her surgeon was appalled at the state of her shoulder but managed to sort it out.

"I think I feel the best I've felt, even from when I was younger," Florence said. "That's just a testament to our training program, our regimen, our diet and really taking care of ourselves."

Florence recalls getting her training regimen for that first World Cup in December, with the competition starting that April. These days, training is 12 months a year with peaks and valleys depending on the schedule.

"The game's just a lot faster, players are fitter, more athletic."

Florence is still enjoying her rugby, especially with the current Canadian squad.

"We get on really well, both on and off the field. We genuinely like being around each other and enjoy each other's company.

"We've noticed lately we're a bit loud in the cafeteria with all the other teams. We're always laughing and having a good time and telling jokes. Sort of relaxed and just enjoying the moment.

"You look over at the other teams and everyone's all serious all the time."

Like the other Canadian women, Florence has sacrificed a lot to pull on the national team jersey.

While their World Cup costs are paid for, the Canadian team usually is in a pay-to-play mode. Last fall's tour of France, for example, cost each player $2,500. It could have been more, but the players drew a line in the sand at $2,500.

"It's been a huge burden on a lot of the athletes over the last three years who've definitely had to pay a lot out of pocket," Florence said. "Leading into every tour, it's been a significant amount where people are in debt or looking at parents and family and supporters and sponsors for money and stuff. Actually the last three, four years, it's been the most I've ever paid in my whole career with the team."

Away from the field, Florence is a technical writer, authoring installation and user manuals for products used by Caterpillar in the mining field.

"I'm not an engineer by any means but I work hands on with the product in our office," she explained.

The products are designed and built on site, so she works with the engineers to get the proper information needed for the product guides.

Florence credits her employer's flexibility in helping her do what is needed for rugby. "They have been phenomenal."

The time off is unpaid, "but that's all I ask. I don't expect anything else."

Prior to this World Cup, she was running out of hours what with training and a full-time job. So she got permission to reduce her work day from eight to six hours. And in the month leading into the tournament, she was able to work just one day a week in the office.

Her current personal status is "married to rugby." She's not sure how long that will last, at least with the national team.

She played it by ear after the last World Cup. Before she knew it, it was one year away and "you're in, you're committed."

Florence is conflicted about what lies ahead after the tournament. She acknowledges she was counting down to the end of months of hard training, only to feel sad when she realized it was almost over.

"World Cup is a great end to a career and it's a natural end. But I've said this to my friends, not playing rugby doesn't seem natural to me right now.

"I don't know. I think I'll just finish this off, focus on this. I'm not even thinking of it right now. I'll see how I feel."

She will continue to play club rugby, and review her options with the national team.

"I'm keeping it open," she said with a laugh. "Just for the sake of it."