Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team made a triumphant return to Langford on Saturday, winning its first match of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series stop 19-10 against Spain.
Kicking off with a match between team USA and Fiji, the two-day tournament was also making its return, having been on hiatus since 2019 due to the pandemic.
Despite misty weather, fans flocked to Starlight Stadium to take in a full day of matches between some of the best women’s squads in the world. In sevens tradition, many in the crowd donned elaborate costumes ranging from a Statue of Liberty to monsters, with plenty of flags and red plaid in support of the local heroes on team Canada.
“It’s good, it’s really good. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said young fan Elin Ekernas, who flew up from Denver with her mother for the tournament. “I’m mostly rooting for USA and New Zealand, they are my favourite. New Zealand is just so cool, they are just so good.”
“We love to watch women’s rugby, sevens or fifteens, it’s just such a great sport for girls,” added mother Karen Ekernas. “I think it shows you what you can do when you are strong and powerful. There are a lot of great role models in the sport.”
Among the first fans to arrive on Saturday morning, the Ekernas were able to take in USA’s 20-19 victory over Fiji.
The American squad dominated the match in the first half, with Kris Thomas and Ilona Maher each scoring a try with no successful conversions, and the team maintaining possession for nearly the entire half.
Kayla Canett earned the Americans a third try at the top of the second half, but the Fiji squad showed it was far from giving up.
Reapi Ulunisau earned Fiji’s first try of the game and Lavenia Cavuru kicked the first conversion of the game for either squad. Shortly after, Alowesi Nakoci scored her team’s second try, but the conversion was no good.
Determined to maintain her team’s lead against a surging Fiji, team U.S.A’s Jaz Gray scored a fourth try for her team, but again the conversion was no good.
With a minute left before full time, Fiji’s Nakoci scored her second try of the game, with teammate Viniana Riwai kicking a good conversion, meaning the game was decided by a single point in U.S.A.’s favour.
The Canadian squad took to the field for its first match to thunderous applause from the hometown crowd, which had noticeably filled out over the course of the morning.
Keyara Wardley soon found herself at the centre of attention from the cheering crowd as she scored the first try of the game, pushing Canada into the lead after four minutes of play. Teammate Breanne Nicholas kicked a good conversion.
Spain was quick to answer, however, with Maria Calvo scoring a try just a few minutes of play later, but the conversion was no good. Teammate Lea Ducher put Spain into the lead for the first time early in the second half, but with no conversion, the game remained within Canada’s reach.
Bianca Farella soon earned a second try for the Canadians, with Nicholas kicking a good conversion. With two minutes left to full time, Wardley scored her second try of the game, winning it for Canada despite the conversion falling short.
The tournament continues on Sunday with the first playoff game starting at 10 a.m. and the cup final at 5 p.m.