Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Elite Recap Plus Finals Review from Rugby Mag

Our Elite team, much like our Open team, overcame a slow start to finish the tournament with improved play and ended the LVI with a win over the Mexico National team. For a side that was competing against 4 different National teams and established All-Stars, compared to our side having one loose training together Wednesday before everyone's flights arrived, a more structured session Thursday morning, and the Japan scrimmage Thursday afternoon, we truly held our own. Throughout the tournament there were glimpses of 7s magnificence that is a sign of amazing things to come. Congratulations to captain Cheyenne Campbell who was named Elite MVP for her leadership, ball handling, and mean stiff-arm (palm-off?)!

The first French Missfits matchup (a team of mostly Canada World University Games alumnae) and Trinidad & Tobago games could have gone our way but ended as narrow losses while Atlantis showed their experience and composure with a solid defeat of our women. That set us up for a quaterfinal matchup against the eventual champions, the Canada MapleLeafs, and taking the field against the #2 team in the world showed us exactly where our faults were and how much fitness is a factor at the elite level. Their depth and crisp play handed us a 40-0 loss. That put us into the Plate semis with a rematch against the French Missfits and it just wasn't our morning. Several offensive line breaks just barely missed finishing as tries and it was 21 untimely turnovers when we were knocking on the try line, each returned 95m for scores, that set the tone for another loss. The 7th/8th place game against Mexico displayed elevated continuity in our play as were were able to string together long stretches of multiple-phase play to put them away. All in all a solid learning experience to play against this caliber of competition and to motivate us for future tours - plus it didn't hurt that we strategically camped between the USA Falcons and Serevi Men!

Here's the Rugby Magazine recap of Sunday's All-Canada Women's Elite Final:

All-Canada Final for LVI's Women's Elite
Tournaments - LVI

The top two Canadian teams made impressive runs to the Women’s Elite 7s final today, and the Maple Leafs and Aptoella will play for the Las Vegas Invitational title on Sunday inside Sam Boyd Stadium. Both teams shut out their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents, as the defending champs bettered the Stars 40-0 and Japan 29-0, while Aptoella defeated Trinidad & Tobago 34-0 and Atlantis 33-0.

Maple Leaf's Mandy Marchak back after shoulder surgery. (Dobson Images)
Maple Leaf's Mandy Marchak back after shoulder surgery. (Dobson Images)
Aptoella shut out Atlantis 33-0 in the Cup semis. (Dobson Images)
Aptoella shut out Atlantis 33-0 in the Cup semis. (Dobson Images)
Maple Leafs' Elissa Alarie en route to a try. (Dobson Image)
Maple Leafs' Elissa Alarie en route to a try. (Dobson Image)
The four semifinalists were all physical, fast teams; however, the Canadian defense was absolutely oppressive. The Maple Leafs were controlled and aggressive in the rucks, and Japan couldn’t set up steep enough during their perpetual retreat. Japan resorted to attacking around the contact point, but that simply produced slow ball and very often a turned-over ruck.

The offense was quick but showed some hesitation at times. From one penalty at midfield, Bianca Farella indecisively streaked across the field, and Mandy Marchak salvaged the opportunity by switching back inside and eventually scoring. The LVI is Marchak’s first competition after six months of shoulder surgery rehab.

“She’s been trying to get her legs underneath her and put her hand up for Atlanta 7s,” Maple Leafs coach Sandro Fiorino said. “We saw spurts of Mandy today. Most people know that she's a great go-forward runner and strong tackler. Our goal is to build up her shoulder and conditioning levels.”
Marchak helped stabilize a young team that includes several U20s who won the Nations Cup in England this past summer: Sarah Kaljuvee, 18-year-old Nikki Case, Frederique Rajotte and Nadia Popov. Above them are players like Bianca Farella, Magali Harvey, Elissa Alarie and Karen Paquin.

“They’re both under the age of 22,” Fiorino said of familiar faces Harvey and Farella. “They’re veterans of this tournament but still young as rugby 7s players, and any time we can get them international competition – they’re getting better. They push for starting positions if they’re on their game; if not, they’re key finishers for our first team when we travel in the IRB circuit.”

Even though Canada only sent one Maple Leafs team this year, the representative side is fairly familiar with Aptoella, who unsurprisingly played a very similar game as the defending LVI champs.

“They’ve all played for Canada at some point and a few are currently part of the 15s program," Fiorino explained. “Lots of them have been in finals wearing the red and white, so this will be a challenge for us. But we’re looking forward to celebrating another Canadian final. It’s exciting because it shows that we have young players coming up, and the players who have been in the program in the past are still maintaining that high level of skill and conditioning to compete internationally in 7s.”

Barbara Mervin, Amanda Thornborough and Julianne Zussman are a sampling of those high-profile Aptoella players. They helped drive an oppressive defense during Aptoella’s semifinal victory over Atlantis, turning over rucks and reining in breakaways.

The final will be a great showcase for Canada. Although the exposure of the USA 7s and LVI is a missed opportunity for the American women, the North Americans benefited from a joint camp earlier this month.

“We had a great opportunity to go down to San Diego; we have a great relationship with Ric [Suggitt],” Fiorino said of the USA Women 7s head coach. “Both of us had two teams there, and we all scrimmaged. That was the most beneficial thing – to train in their environment; that’s a great facility down there. 
The goal for us is to bring the level up for north American rugby,” Fiorino said of Canada and the USA. “In the past, we have said that we want to close the gap on the rest of the world. Based on the World Cup performance, we have, with the USA finishing third and us second. We’re right there. Our goal is to make sure that every time we go to a tournament, one of us is in the final, or hopefully both us.”

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