Women’s Rugby: Canada Wins Can-Am Title in Dominating Fashion

By April 2, 2017Rugby

Magali Harvey accounted for 17 of Canada’s points (Photo Credit: Jackie Finlan)

The USA Women’s National Team (“Eagles”) has been playing rugby against its Canadian counterpart for 30 years, and as the teams convened at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Center in southern California, the USA led the all-time series 18-16. But with this week’s test matches, the Canadians have evened the record after a 39-5 win on Tuesday and 37-10 win on Saturday. The Can-Am title is awarded on cumulative point differential, and Canada retained the honor with a 61-point cushion.

On Tuesday, the Eagles played Canada to a 10-5 halftime before the visitors pulled away in the second half. The USA then had three days to build on the successes of that first half and turn it into 80 minutes of positive rugby.

“While we were neck and neck with the Canadians in the first half of Tuesday’s game, we identified that we needed some work in our consistency and execution in the second half,” USA flanker Christiane Pheil pinpointed areas of improvement for Saturday’s game. “Our fringe defense became sloppy and our support lines became flat as the minutes went on. We worked on squeezing towards the tackler and keeping communication high late in the game.”

That attention to detail began to wane in part due to fitness and Canada’s ability to win the physical battle, but also the team’s level of cohesion.

Alycia Washington tracks Canada No. 8 Kelly Russell off the scrum (Photo Credit: Jackie Finlan)

“We also identified a need for adjustments in the set piece, but those adjustments take more than a couple of days,” the loose forward added. “We are taking those notes into the next four months of training prior to Ireland.”

In game one, Canada established dominance in the scrum – a set piece that serves as a crucial attacking platform but also a source of pride. Canada then upped its scrum’s influence in the rematch, opting to pack-down rather than kick a penalty to touch, seeing as the Eagles had better success in the lineouts. That strategy was immediately effective and helped set up the game’s first try two minutes in.

A knock-on shortly after the kickoff allowed Canada to set up in the USA’s end. After two Canadian scrums that got the visitors to the try line, the Americans earned a penalty, and Alev Kelter lined up the penalty kick to touch. It didn’t reach the sideline – the first of three penalty kicks to stay in-bounds – and Canada kept attacking until another penalty set up a driving scrum to the line. Captain and No. 8 Kelly Russell dove over for the easy try that Magali Harvey converted, 7-0.

Canada went on to score two more tries in the half, as fullback Julianne Zussman and wing Harvey dotted down before the break, 17-0 to Canada. In game one, the USA faltered in the second half, allowing Canada to dictate the pace of play and win physically. But it was the USA that came out raring after the break on Saturday, eager to get on the board and put its mark on the match.

The Eagles kept the kickoff and worked fast phases sideline to sideline. Until this point, the backline struggled to run onto the ball and flow with each other, but this series saw the whole team get involved and move forward. As the team worked toward Canada’s try line, Kelter smartly passed to fullback Jess Wooden in the back field, who connected with Pheil working hard off the ball. The finishing pass went to wing Naya Tapper, who stepped around a few defenders for the score, 17-5 at minute 42.

In the minutes building toward Canada’s next try, flyhalf Emily Belchos flashed a desire to kick through to her wings for a chase into the try zone. The Americans didn’t adjust that aspect of their defense and the Canadians’ ability to identify unguarded space and send a kick-and-chase into it would later produce points.

Canada’s Harvey added a penalty kick, 20-5, in minute 55, an opportunity that originated with a stolen lineout. The visitors looked like they were building toward another try as the ever-slippery Harvey sidestepped an obscene amount of USA defenders. But when Nicole Heavirland wrapped her up, Harvey sent an errant pass that Kelter jumped on. The inside center kicked ahead off the ground, and the ball popped perfectly into her arms. She connected with Penn State junior Tess Feury, who was pulled down just short of the line. Support was fast, as was the recycle, and prop Catie Benson powered the last couple meters over the line, 20-10.

USA flanker Christiane Pheil plucks a lineout ball out of the air (Photo Credit: Jackie Finlan)

That third quarter was the best offensive output the USA would experience. Although the final 10 minutes saw surges, especially with reserves like Jamila Reinhardt and three-time World Cup veteran Phaidra Knight on the pitch, no points resulted. Instead, Belchos, Harvey and Elissa Alarie scored for Canada, 37-10.

“As for our execution today, we felt like our defense greatly improved,” Pheil assessed. “We made Canada work hard for their tries – and they played some amazing rugby. We had a few good moments as well, but not enough. We need to continue to take every opportunity we get and turn it into something positive. The potential is obvious; it’s just continuing to develop a knowledge of each other and taking advantage of our possession. That will, without a doubt, come with time.”

The USA does have some time. The Women’s Rugby World Cup occurs in August in Ireland, and the American player pool will assemble in Chula Vista for residency in late June. The team won’t, however, have any more international playing opportunities before then.

USA flanker Sara Parsons was excellent on defense and carried well (Photo Credit: Jackie Finlan)

“We learned a lot in the game and we need consistency in our set piece and in our attack,” USA Women’s National Team coach Pete Steinberg reflected on Saturday’s takeaways. “We can close the gap but it will take a lot of work.”

USA Women’s National Team

  1. Tiffany Faaee (c)
  2. Joanna Kitlinski
  3. Catherine Benson
  4. Stacey Bridges
  5. Molly Kinsella
  6. Christiane Pheil
  7. Sara Parsons
  8. Jordan Gray
  9. Annakaren Pedraza
  10. Nicole Heavirland
  11. Naya Tapper
  12. Alev Kelter
  13. Ryan Carlyle
  14. Kristen Thomas
  15. Jess Wooden


  1. Phaidra Knight
  2. Naima Reddick
  3. Jamila Reinhardt
  4. Alycia Washington
  5. Kristine Sommer
  6. Kelly Griffin
  7. Kayla Canett
  8. Tess Feury

CANADA Women’s National Team

  1. Carolyn McEwen
  2. Laura Russell
  3. DaLeaka Menin
  4. Tyson Beukeboom
  5. Latoya Blackwood
  6. Jacey Grusnick
  7. Karen Paquin
  8. Kelly Russell (c)
  9. Chelsea Guthrie
  10. Emily Belchos
  11. Magali Harvey
  12. Amanda Thornborough
  13. Brittany Waters
  14. Elissa Alarie
  15. Julianne Zussman


  1. Jane Kirby
  2. Brittany Kassil
  3. Olivia DeMerchant
  4. Kayla Mack
  5. Cindy Nelles
  6. Lori Josephson
  7. Andrea Burk
  8. Anais Holly

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