Canadian women look to defy the odds and upset England at Rugby World Cup

Canadian women look to defy the odds and upset England at Rugby World Cup
Canada women’s rugby coach Kevin Rouet is shown in a 2022 handout photo. Third-ranked Canada faces tournament favourite England on Friday night in the semifinals of the Women's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rugby Canada-Chad Hipolito

While the bookies and most everyone else expect top-ranked England to cruise to the Rugby World Cup title, Canada coach Kevin Rouet says his team has something to say about that.

The third-ranked Canadian women look to derail England’s championship run when the two teams face off Friday night at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. The top-ranked Red Roses, essentially a fully professional side, have won 29 straight since a 28-13 loss to New Zealand in July 2019 at the Women’s Super Series in Chula Vista, Calif.

Bet365 has England at -225 to win the World Cup, meaning a $100 bet would return $144.44. Canada is listed at +3300, with a $100 wager returning $3,400.

Not unexpectedly, Rouet sees things differently, pointing to several key areas in the semifinal showdown.

“If we get success in the scrum, the maul and kicking battle, that’s where we could just make them think ‘Oh, it won’t be an easy day,'” said the French-born coach. “Because that’s how they win games against every team. Not being very creative but just being very strong in those three areas.”

No. 2 New Zealand takes on No. 4 France in the other semifinal Saturday.

England’s forwards accounted for all seven tries in the Red Roses’ 41-5 quarterfinal win over No. 6 Australia in nasty, wet conditions.

Canada defeated the sixth-ranked U.S. 32-11 in its quarterfinal.

Both England and Canada have had success with the maul off lineouts, driving the opposition pack backwards with the ball-carrier behind a phalanx of forwards rumbling forward like a steamroller. Done correctly, it’s hard to stop without incurring a penalty.

Canada has options when it comes for kicking for territory in Alex Tessier, Elissa Alarie and Maddy Grant.

Rouet says centre Sara Kaljuvee, who had to leave the quarterfinal in the seventh minute after failing a head injury assessment, will be available to play Friday.

Despite the odds, Rouet says he is excited going into the game.

“I just want to show the world that it’s not going to be easy for you because you are (a) professional (side). I think the girls are of the same mindset … I think we are one of the teams that can cause (England) a lot of issues.”

Canada’s best finish at the tournament was second in 2014 when it lost 21-9 to England in the final. The Canadian women placed fourth in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and were fifth last time out in 2017.

England has never finished out of the top three at the tournament.

The Red Roses also won in 1994 and have finished runner-up five-times (losing to the U.S. in 1991 and New Zealand in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2017). They were third in 1998.

Unlike the English, many of the Canadian players have day jobs outside of rugby.

England won 51-12 the last time the two met, at the Twickenham Stoop in November 2021.

That was just the third test for the Canadian women following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In contrast, the Canada game was the 10th for England since the start of the pandemic.

“We know we are way better (now) in a lot of areas of the game,” said Rouet.

England holds a 28-3-1 all-time edge over Canada. The Red Roses have won the last eight meetings, outscoring the Canadians 360-110, since a 52-17 loss in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in July 2016.

But England needed a 74th-minute try to down Canada 19-17 in July 2019 with the Canadians missing a late penalty.

Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press

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