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Canada women renew rugby rivalry with U.S. as Pacific Four Series opens in Madrid

After a lopsided 66-7 win over No. 13 South Africa last weekend in their first outing since the Rugby World Cup in November, the fourth-ranked Canadian women expect a stiffer test Saturday against the seventh-ranked U.S.
Alex Tessier of Canada, left, is tackled by a French player in the bronze medal game of the women's rugby World Cup at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, Nov.12, 2022. After a lopsided albeit error-filled rugby win over No. 13 South Africa last weekend in their first outing since the World Cup in November, the fourth-ranked Canadian women expect a stiffer challenge Saturday against the seventh-ranked U.S. in the Pacific Four Series opener in Madrid. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Andrew Cornaga/Photosport via AP

After a lopsided 66-7 win over No. 13 South Africa last weekend in their first outing since the Rugby World Cup in November, the fourth-ranked Canadian women expect a stiffer test Saturday against the seventh-ranked U.S. 

The two North American rivals meet in Spain in the Pacific Four Series opener at Estadio Nacional de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

While Canada has had the better of the Americans in recent meetings, Canada coach Kevin Rouet expects the U.S. to look to disrupt at the set piece.

"I'm pretty confident they're going to challenge us in the scrum, lineout, maul," Rouet said. "And a lot of kicking. I expect them to kick a lot against us. That's what they did at the World Cup. They didn't take a lot of risks against us."

Canada has a 25-19 edge in career games with the U.S, and has won the last seven meetings dating back to July 2019. That run includes two victories at last year's World Cup — 29-14 in pool play and 32-11 in the quarterfinal.

The Canadians went on to finish fourth in New Zealand, losing to France in the third-place game after pushing England to the limit in the semifinal.

The Americans have just one victory in their last 11 games with Canada, a 20-18 decision in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in San Diego in July 2019.

A win Saturday and the American women will climb one place in the world rankings to sixth, above Australia. The U.S. could jump to No. 5 if it beats Canada and Italy, currently No. 5, loses to top-ranked England.

The Canadians thumped South Africa in an error-filled game at the same venue last Saturday in Madrid with Fancy Bermudez, a sevens player in her 15s international debut, and Sabrina Poulin each scoring two tries. South Africa was reduced to 14 women in the seventh minute when flanker Catha Jacobs, following video review, was red-carded for a high tackle.

On Thursday, World Rugby handed Jacobs a three-match ban. That suspension could be reduced to two games if she takes part in a "coaching intervention program."

Ten different players scored points for Canada, with Cassandra Tuffnail and Mahalia Robinson also earning their first international 15s caps.

The Americans defeated No. 11 Spain 20-14 last Saturday in a game that saw eight U.S. players make their senior debut. Interim head coach Rich Ashfield has changed his lineup this weekend with only six players remaining from the Spain starting 15.

Rouet, meanwhile, has gone with the same forward pack and made just two chances to his backs, including one positional shift.

Alex Tessier moves from centre to fly half with Julia Schell dropping to the bench. Sara Kaljuvee slots in at centre. Alexandra Ellis and Pamphinette Buisa join the replacements.

Rouet says Tessier provides the team with the best kicking option from the No. 10 position while Schell offers a different look off the bench.

Kaljuvee and Buisa missed the South Africa game with minor injuries.

Veteran lock Tyson Beukeboom is set to earn cap No. 58 for Canada, second only to the retired Gillian Florence's 66 caps.

DaLeaka Menin will be playing her 45th game for Canada, Brittany Kassil her 35th, and Fabiola Forteza her 20th. Gillian Boag could earn her 20th cap off the bench.

Australia will host New Zealand in June in Pacific Four Series play with all four teams converging on Canada in July for the final matches of the tournament. The top three teams will qualify for the inaugural WXV, a new three-tier annual global women's international 15s competition, while the bottom team will move on to the WXV second tier.

The WXV is scheduled for October-November.


Canada Roster

Brittany Kassil, Guelph, Ont., Guelph Redcoats RFC; Emily Tuttosi, Souris, Man., Calgary Hornets/Exeter Chiefs; DaLeaka Menin, Vulcan, Alta., Exeter Chiefs; Tyson Beukeboom, Uxbridge, Ont., Cowichan RFC; Courtney Holtkamp, Rimbey, Alta., Red Deer Titans Rugby; Fabiola Forteza, Quebec City, Club de rugby de Quebec/Stade Bordelais; Sara Svoboda, Belleville, Ont., Belleville Bulldogs/Loughborough Lightning; Sophie de Goede (capt.), Victoria, Castaway Wanderers RFC; Justine Pelletier, Riviere-du-Loup, Que., Club de rugby de Quebec/Stade Bordelais; Alexandra Tessier, Sainte-Clotilde-de-Horton, Que., Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC; Paige Farries, Red Deer, Alta., Westshore RFC/Worcester Warriors; Sara Kaljuvee, Ajax, Ont., Toronto Scottish Westshore RFC; Fancy Bermudez, Edmonton, NorWester Athletic Association/Westshore RFC; Sarah-Maude Lachance, Victoriaville, Que., Club de rugby de Quebec/Lons Section Paloise; Sabrina Poulin, St-Georges, Que., TMRRFC/Eibar Rugby Taldea.


Gillian Boag, Calgary, Capilano RFC; Maya Montiel, Dieppe, N.B., University of Ottawa/Saracens; Alexandria Ellis, Ottawa, Barrhaven Scottish/Saracens; Emma Taylor, Scotsburn, N.S., Halifax RFC; Marie-Pier Fauteux, Sherbrooke, Que. Club de rugby de Quebec/Universite Laval; Pamphinette Buisa, Gatineau, Que., Ottawa Irish; Mahalia Robinson, Fulford, Que., TMRRFC/Concordia Universite; Julia Schell, Uxbridge, Ont., Guelph Redcoats/Castaway Wanderers.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press