Kevin Rouet, head coach of the Canadian women's team since March 2022, is enjoying a spell of victories with his team. The most recent win on September 23 in Fiji (24-7) marked three for three in the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2021, after a first victory against Italy in July, followed by another against Wales in August.
Beyond the result, it was the external conditions that seemed to help the squad the most on their way to New Zealand.
"In Fiji we played in a deluge, we were unlucky again because we play a lot in the rain," smiled Rouet.
Senior Women's 15s with the Malamala staff after a fun game of touch rugby on their way off the island! 🏝— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) September 22, 2022
L’équipe féminine senior de rugby à XV avec le personnel de Malamala après un match divertissant de touch rugby avant leur départ de l’île! 🏝#RugbyCA pic.twitter.com/YuiPm3c8bi
"We had spent eight extraordinary days in the sun and we had the joy of having a deluge day in Fiji. So we'll say that in terms of confidence, it was an interesting match. We told ourselves that it was going to be complicated, that it wasn't going to be pretty... but that we were going to take it like a World Cup match.
"Our objective was to get the bonus points in this game and win. The girls saw it that way; it wasn't great but we managed to score our four tries and win by a score of 24-7."
Ideal preparation in Fiji
Between the world's third-ranked team and one that is still outside the top 20, this match had no impact on the World Rugby Women's Rankings powered by Capgemini as the gap between the two nations was too wide.
"Fiji are ranked 21st in the world but their ranking does not reflect what they are, it's just that they didn't play enough because of Covid," said Rouet, who found in Fiji an excellent opposition to prepare his team for the challenge ahead.
"But it also allowed some of the girls to play, those who haven't had much opportunity to play lately, so it was still very interesting in terms of preparation. But the match itself was not of a great quality, let's say," adds the coach who saw this final preparation match as decisive to better define his group.
"It's always decisive in the sense that we're going to spend two months together," he said. "I had to validate some of the athletes and trust them to be able to enter a group of 32 players, which is a lot. Because a group of 32, for it to live, you need to know a little bit about your new players.
"I think it allowed me to validate with the coaches all these little points and it allowed the girls to learn to play in the rain, which is not always easy. Especially in New Zealand, it can happen. We're in periods where it could happen again, whether we're playing a match or a quarter-final or a semi-final in a downpour like that.”
"It's also similar to New Zealand in terms of temperature. We spent a week where we also took advantage of the fact that it's going to be a long two months, to gather together and do some extra rugby activities. So it was pretty good. It was a good transition to New Zealand.”
The Bordeaux native, who took over from Sandro Fiorino last spring, conducts his training in English, although a third of his squad is French-speaking, but perfectly bilingual. "I coach in English for the most part, but when I do my individual interviews with the French speakers, we speak in French, or rather in Quebecois, should we say," he confirms.
Three tricky opponents
"They will play like the boys, meaning very structured, very fast, very strong in defence and focused on everything that involves stealing balls.
Canada’s Senior Women’s 15s are off to the @rugbyworldcup ✈️— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) September 17, 2022
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Départ de l’équipe féminine senior de rugby à XV pour la Coupe du monde de rugby! ✈️
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"On the other hand, they are very strong fighters, with low tackles, which contributes a lot. Collectively, it's a game that's starting to be very liberated because they're starting to value women's rugby in Japan too.”
On 16 October Canada's second match, against Italy at Waitakere Stadium in Auckland, kicks off. Italy is a team that Canada is very wary of.
"Italy is a team that surprised us a little bit at home in Canada in July," recalls the coach. "I don't think we were ready yet. Italy is a team that I often watch because I also watch a lot of the [Women's] Six Nations. I watch everything that happens in Europe.
"Italy is a group of players who have been playing together for several years and there have not necessarily been many changes in that team. They are very used to playing together, whereas for us it is not necessarily the case. They are a difficult team to play against, they play a lot after contact, they are unpredictably and they can hurt you.
"The proof is that they won against France recently (26-19 on 9 September in Biella) with a slightly changed team, but still. They went and got France. They are a very tough team. When everything goes well for them, they can hurt you.”
The third match will have a déjà vu feeling against USA on 23 October in Auckland. "We know them very well, we've been playing them for several years... We know each other by heart in fact, it's complicated to say," says Rouet, who nevertheless remains focused. "We know each other like the back of our hand, so it's hard to say. In fact, I think this World Cup will be more balanced than it has ever been.
The value of sacrifice
The road to the quarter-finals will be filled with pitfalls that Canada will have to do everything in their power to try to avoid if they want to improve on the fifth place they achieved at the last edition of the tournament in 2017 in Ireland. The only time Canada has been on the edge of glory in its history was in 2014 in France, where the Canadians lost 21-9 to England in the final.
Winning the World Cup would not only be historic, it would also be very special.
"I have girls who make a lot of personal sacrifices in their lives to be able to be part of this adventure, which is not necessarily the case elsewhere," says Rouet.
"In other unions, the girls are paid to be there. In Canada, we are not in this situation at all, even though we are highly ranked as a country. If you look at the top 10 in the world, we must be one of the smallest budgets. Now, even Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, everyone is starting to put in big money. We're starting to do it too.
"So the value of sacrifice, the value of work are all the more important. On the contrary, it is an additional motivation to say to ourselves that there are perhaps federations that are more fortunate than us, but we are a working country, we are a country that knows the value of sacrifice.
"And then you can see it when they train. When you have left your job and you lose money to come here, you know why you are here. It can be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage, it can be both. But for us, we take it as an advantage in the end not to have everything easy.
"If we get a title considering our situation, it will have a huge value, the girls know that. And some of them have been waiting for five years, because the tournament was postponed, so obviously they have made sacrifices for those five years.
"In addition, these last few months, I've asked a lot from them, like never before. It was complicated because they had to get along with their work. We have girls in the team who work, who are not full time players. So obviously, it's always a bit complicated. We have players who have left their jobs anyway or were on a sabbatical leave to go to Rugby World Cup 2021.
"But generally speaking, it's responded very well and I'm very proud of the response the girls have had when I've asked them to make even more sacrifices because they have and I'm sure it will pay off in the end.”