On Sunday, Canada’s National Senior Women’s Rugby Team will fight their longstanding rivals and continental neighbours for fifth place at the 2010 World Cup in London, England.
For the 28th time in history and sixth time in just over a calendar year, Canada will play the USA, but the stakes are much higher this time and include more than just bragging rights. The world ranking – either fifth or sixth – from Sunday’s final will attach itself to both nations for the next four years and carry into how teams are seeded in the 2014 World Cup pools.
Historically, the Americans have the better all-time record against the Canadians (15-12), but the Canucks hold the recent edge (3-2 since 2009 Nations Cup).
Entering the 2010 World Cup, Canada and the USA were ranked fourth and fifth respectively, so on Sunday, Canada will be fighting for a loss of only one spot whereas the US are looking to maintain theirs from 2006.
Because the teams are so familiar with each other, there are a rife of statistics that follow this Hollywood-scripted grudge match as far as wins and losses as well as point margins, but the magnitude nullifies the numbers on Sunday.
The familiarity between the two countries has not numbed the emotion between them. The North American teams beat two Six Nations sides in the World Cup semifinal to get to this point; Canada trounced Scotland 41-0 and the USA beat Ireland 40-3.
Canada’s win was significant as it was a big response to an earlier costly loss to France, which saw them advance to the top four instead of the NSWT.
Captain Leslie Cripps, who will play in her 47th and final match for Canada on Sunday, was pleased with the way her squad answered back against Scotland in the semi, but could not avoid the thought of the final showdown.
"I'm really happy, it was a solid team performance started by the forwards and finished off by the backs on so many occasions. We will have to up the stakes in physicality [in our next game], the USA are always up for the game and we will have to be bigger and better.”
Ashley English, USA captain, was equally realistic about how close the fifth place final will be.
“Every game is different. We have played Canada a lot last year so we know some of their tricks, but they know some of our tricks. We'll just have to see what happens on the day and hopefully we will come out on top."
NSWT Head Coach John Long had to laugh at meeting such a familiar side halfway around the world, but he hardened up when it came to the grudge match.
"It’s a case of Groundhog Day plus six. We are very familiar with one another and you can guarantee it will be a big battle and that fifth spot will be important to both teams. Those girls are very adamant that they want to go out on a high."
On top of what the match means for the program and team, it also carries added weight for a number of retiring Canadian players, including a crop of vets who have appeared in several World Cups.*
Gillian Florence, the Mark Messier of women's rugby, has been a cornerstone of Canadian rugby for five World Cups and over 20 years, and will retire with 66 caps.
Sunday will be NSWT vice-captain Dr Maria Gallo’s 55th and final cap (28 of them against the Americans), and likewise for the crafty centre Sarah Ulmer with 38.
Heather Jaques, after two World Cup appearances in the red jersey, is hanging it up after 35 caps in Canada’s back row.
With those five players (including Cripps), the program will lose 241 caps worth of valuable experience, leadership and personality.
Not retiring but also mentionable, the halfback combination of Julia Sugawara and Anna Schnell are both hitting career milestones on Sunday, with 30 and 20 caps respectively.
A mouthful of figures, but as Coach Long acknowledged, Canada will want to their World Cup campaign - and careers - on a high note.
Canada will play the USA on Sunday, September 5 at Surrey Sports Park. The game will not be broadcast on TV or streamed live.
England and the New Zealand Black Ferns are in the World Cup final later that evening at The Stoop. Australia and France will play for third.
Canada Lineup to Face USA on Sunday:
1. Leslie Cripps **Captain 2. Lesley McKenzie 3. Corinne Jacobsen 4. Megan Gibbs 5. Paige Burdett Knauf 6. Barbara Mervin 7. Gillian Florence 8. Kelly Russell 9. Julia Sugawara 10. Anna Schnell 11. Maria Gallo **Vice-captain 12. Sarah Ulmer 13. Mandy Marchak 14. Heather Moyse 15. Ashley Patzer 16. Tabitha Stavrou 17. Kim Donaldson 18. Marlene Donaldson 19. Heather Jaques 20. Laura Stoughton 21. Brooke Hilditch 22. Cheryl Phillips
Canada NSWT Coaching Staff
John Long Head Coach
Kris de Scossa Assistant Coach
Paul Balsom Strength & Conditioning
Kristy Martin Hale Program Manager
Dr. Rosalind Mullins Physician
Jean (Shaw) Soleyn Athletic Therapist
Melody Lee Massage Therapist
Meghan Mutrie Communications