When you are a rugby fan, and I would rate it my favourite sport to watch, you most certainly have options in terms of what form of rugby to watch.
In my case I love 15s, and 13s with near equal passion, with 7s not far behind.
In the case of 7s it might be the most recognizable version for non-rugby fans because it is now a Summer Olympics sport, which means it gets elevated in terms of TV time and general interest every four years.
Here is Canada the Rugby 7s program nationally is a very good one on both the men’s and women’s side of the sport, and I’ll watch either squad in action when they hit the TV.
This all brings me Briercrest, SK. a village of about 200, which is an unlikely locale to be included in a column on rugby.
On the women’s side of 7s rugby we find it 20-year-old Delaney Aikens involved with Canada’s National Team.
Aikens grew up on a farm near Briercrest, where she was a pretty good hockey player in her youth – good enough to attended Notre Dame in Wilcox.
It was at Notre Dame Aikens’ sports career took a turn after she was introduced to rugby when she was in Grade 9 by instructor Darren Beaulac.
“My older sister played as well so I knew the game,” she said.
Aikens said she was immediately intrigued by rugby 15s at the time for its hard-hitting play, because of “how aggressively I played hockey. I was always in the penalty box.”
So Aikens took to the rugby pitch, and excelled, channeling her hockey aggression into the new sport. She would make the Saskatchewan U16 and U18 teams, even though she came to the game late.
It’s the physical play that made Aikens fit rugby as it is a sport that expects players to hit, and be hit, virtually every play.
“Hockey has a lot of aggression in it, but nothing like rugby. The objective is to hit people and that’s definitely my style,” she said.
And then Aikens saw 7s, and again was “intrigued.”
“It’s definitely a lot different game. It’s more about speed and agility,” she said, adding she had the speed and still got to hit, so it was another good fit.
Of course in 7s, it’s often you alone between an opposing player and a run to the try line, since only seven defenders are strung out across a football field-sized pitch.
“That’s one thing about 7s, you’ve really got to trust yourself,” she said, adding when you go for the tackle it has to be made. That’s where speed comes in as a critical skill.
The speed is an asset finding holes to score too.
“You’ve got to use the width to your advantage,” offered Aikens.
A 7s game is also a sprint, played over only two seven-minute halves.
“You’ve got to come out to play,” said Aikens, who is a relative newcomer to the women’s sevens senior national team.
Prior to getting carded for Canada’s national squad, Aikens furthered her experience in rugby playing at the University of British Columbia for two years, participating in two under-18 tournaments for Canada, and touring with the second-tier development team, the Maple Leafs. While representing the UBC Thunderbirds, Aikens led the team with seven tries during the 2019 Canada West Sevens Series.
She was a member of Team Canada that won bronze at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
Now Aikens is with the national team she gets to travel the world representing Canada, with major 7s in places such as Cape Town, South Africa, Dubai, New Zealand and Australia.
“We travel a lot that’s what’s so great about the sport of rugby, it takes you all over the world,” said Aikens.
In Canada the team plays out of Westhills Stadium in Langford B.C. (part of Greater Victoria).
“In Langford 7s is a really big deal,” said Aikens, adding it’s “... so nice to play in front of home fans.”
Of course the big goal for Aikens and the rest of the 7s program at the national level is to make the Canadian team heading to the upcoming Summer Olympics (postponed this year due to COVID-19).
Aikens said the year delay has helped her chances, noting a year ago as a young athlete coming into the program her making the team was far from certain.
“Last year I don’t know if I’d have made the Olympic team,” she said.
Now Aikens is excited about her potential to be an Olympian, having worked hard while the sport was on hiatus due to the pandemic, adding she’s ready to show she deserves to go to Tokyo next summer.
“I think I have a really good chance of making that squad,” she said.
Since Rugby 7s is one of the key sports I will be watching from the Olympics it will be a great to watch a Saskatchewan athlete perform if she is on the team. I wish her all the luck.