YORKTON - When Team Canada heads to New Zealand in October for the Women’s World Cup of rugby Regina’s Gabrielle Senft will be looking to impact things from her back row spot.
Recently, Senft was in the fold as Canada hosted Italy in a sort of World Cup warm-up match. It was the first-ever visit by Italy to Canada, and only the second time the teams had met on the pitch.
Canada won the contest 34-24, but Senft said it was a tougher than expected tilt.
“They came out to play harder than we thought,” Senft told Yorkton This Week in a recent interview.
That Italy was fired up will likely prove a good thing as Canada fine tunes for their World Cup run Oct. 8, to Nov. 12 in New Zealand.
“As a team we want to win,” said Senft who will compete for Canada in her first World Cup, adding the team will be as ready as it has ever been.
“We’re dedicating our entire summer to being ready . . . To be the best Canada we are able to show.”
Senft said with more dedicated preparation than any time in the past the team is able “to challenge each other, to be our fittest, to be on point . . . to be ready to perform under pressure,” heading to World Cup.
It will not be easy.
“England is definitely number one right now,” offered Senft, with host New Zealand number two and then France and Canada jockeying back and forth rated three and four in the world.
While rugby might not be the first sport many think about in Saskatchewan, it was a perfect fit for Senft once she gave it a try.
“In Grade 9 they asked me to come out to a rugby practice. Basically, I just fell in love with the sport,” explained Senft.
Senft said that her immediate connection with rugby changed her path in terms of sport. She had been an elite volleyball player with her eye’s set on an American scholarship in that sport.
But, with rugby turning her head its way, she opted to attend the University of Victoria and was soon focused entirely on rugby.
So why the big change? There is after all quite a difference between the game of volleyball, isolated with your own team on one side of the net, and the in-the-trenches battles with the opponents on a rugby pitch.
“Being a forward (in rugby) I’d say the physicality behind it,” said Senft.
She said she played other sports growing up, soccer and basketball among them, where her love of physical play often showed through, but not in a positive fashion for the team.
“I was always the one getting fouled out, or in trouble for hitting somebody,” said Senft.
But, Senft said her connection to rugby goes beyond the physical aspect on the pitch.
“The community part of rugby drew me in right away. They said it was like a family, and I firmly believe that it is . . . Now it’s a family to one. That sticks out the most,” she said.
Of course it helped Senft seemed to have an aptitude for rugby.
“I think I was granted with a bit of natural talent and physical ability,” she said.
And, there was also a willingness to do whatever she could to grow as a player.
For Senft that meant climbing on airplanes and heading to the best opportunities to play rugby she could find including three years in Australia, a stint with Bristol in England and most recently suiting up with the well-known Exter squad.
Senft said she tried to be a sponge soaking up everything she could playing in two countries with much more of an ingrained rugby culture.
“It was seeing the knowledge of the game, to have an open mindset,” she said, adding different countries have different approaches and strategies to the game and she tries to incorporate elements of what she saw into her own play.
Having played professionally in England, and with the emergence of Major League Rugby a pro men’s league for 15s in North America, does Senft think a women’s pro league will happen here?
“We talk about it all the time. We wish we had one right now,” she said, adding it’s a huge advantage for national teams in England, Australia and other countries players get to compete regularly at the high levels of a pro league.
“We wish we had something to come back to (in North America),” said Senft. “It’s not the assist to go over there and be welcomed.” She added when playing in another country you are essentially taking a spot a domestic player could be playing and getting better through that effort.
So a pro women’s league here would allow more players to get paid to play and to develop to a higher. Senft said she believes it will happen, but the ‘when’ remains very much unknown.
As it stands just playing on Team Canada means a level of personal commitment the players in other contending countries do not face.
“This summer we’re making sacrifices in jobs and families,” said Senft, adding to centralize to train requires that even though they are not being paid. “. . . Other countries provide all the resources.”
Senft said players here know Rugby Canada doesn’t have the resources so they have chosen to do it anyway, spending a month in Victoria and a month in Halifax for practices six days a week.
“We don’t want to fall back like the men (who failed for the first time to qualify for the World Cup),” she said.