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Sports This Week: Regina's Senft reflects on recent rugby efforts

Senft said it's an exciting time for women’s rugby in this country.
Gab Senft by Chad Hipolito Rugby Canada 72
Regina’s Gabrielle Senft will be looking to impact things from her back row spot for Team Canada.

YORKTON - Regina’s Gabrielle Senft was part of Canada's Women's Rugby Team which recently completed play in the 2023 World Rugby Pacific Four Series held in Ottawa.

The event, which included teams from the United States, Australia and the number one ranked New Zealand squad was an up and down affair for the host Canucks.

Canada started with a decisive victory over the U.S. 50-17, then played a strong first half against the Black Ferns before dropping a 52-21 decision.

The Canadian women rebounded nicely in their final game topping Australia 45-7.

Senft said the experience of playing some of the top teams in the world on home soil was amazing and it was something which clearly resonated with fans too.

“The crowd this year was a world record for the Canadian program,” she told Yorkton This Week.

The crowd interest was perhaps bigger news than the final scores.

“It shows how much women’s rugby is growing in Canada,” said Senft.

But what about the on-field results?

Senft said as the fourth ranked team in the world at present the event was certainly a measuring stick for the team especially “coming up against New Zealand who are always one of the best.”

To just be on the field with the Black Ferns, watching their pre-game haka was special, said Senft.

As for the game, “they bring such a different style to rugby,” she said.

Given the Canadians were down only a try after the first half, things looked good, “if we could have done the same things in the second (half),” offered Senft.

But, they didn’t and the close game turned in New Zealand’s favour.

“That’s the frustrating part,” said Senft.

Certainly the Black Ferns have played more test matches, and been together as a unit longer than Canada, and Senft said it shows in how they respond to any sort of adversity and how they put together better second halves so often.

But, it was a lesson learned, that Canada can compete with New Zealand, but the effort has to be a full 80-minutes.

The rebound game against Australia was big too.

“Australia at number five (in the world) was just one under us. We had to go out and show them why we were above them,” said Senft, adding the fire they showed in the game was maybe what they needed “a little bit more of against New Zealand.”

Overall, Canada finished second in the tournament thus qualifying for the top tier of WXV, a global women's international 15s competition this fall.

WXV is a new three-tier annual global women's international 15s competition. Canada will be competing in the top tier (WXV 1) in New Zealand along with the host Black Ferns, Australia, France and Wales, with matches set for Oct. 20-21 in Wellington, Oct. 27-28 in Dunedin and Nov. 3-4 in Auckland.  

Before WXV, Canada will play England in a two-match series this September, marking the first time these teams have faced off since the 2021 Rugby World Cup (played in 2022) semi-final England taking the win by a close score of 26-19.

The series opener in England will be played at Exeter's Sandy Park on Sept. 23, home of the Exeter Chiefs, the Premier 15s team that includes the likes of Canadians Emily Tuttosi , DaLeaka Menin and Senft. 

For Senft it will be sort of a double return to her roots, not just the Exeter connection, but she made her international debut for Canada against England in November 2018.

“It’s very exciting,” she said, adding the best part is England asked for the series, which suggests a growing respect for the Canadian program.

It fits for Canada too because every game adds experience.

“Just getting test matches. High pressure test matches, getting girls more ‘caps’ (games), is so important,” said Senft.

As it stands this year Canadian players could play 10 or 11 ‘caps’ “which is unbelievable,” she said, adding generally it has been half that many in any given year.

The added games will be essential heading beyond WXV with an eye to the 2025 World Cup which Senft said Canada has intentions of winning.

Senft said it all adds up to an exciting time for women’s rugby in this country.

“It’s unreal. I’ve been playing rugby since I was 13 in Saskatchewan. . . The steps are growing fast now. It’s something I dreamed of but never thought I’d see,” she said.