By Keaton Hills
University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s rugby player Claire Gallagher scored her first international try in the 45th minute as Canada dominated Australia 45-7 to conclude the World Rugby Pacific Four Series on Friday at TD Place.
Gallagher made her debut for the Canadian senior women’s 15s side less than a week earlier when World Cup-champion New Zealand took over in the late stages to down the hosts 52-21.
The Caledon East native was thrilled to get the chance to represent her country in the same city where she plays university rugby. Her teammates and family were in attendance and shown on the jumbotron multiple times holding up a sign that said “10/10 for Claire Gallagher” in reference to 10 being her jersey number.
“It was really awesome to look for them in the crowd and definitely hear them when I scored,” signalled Gallagher, noting she wasn’t surprised to see her team dominate the visiting Aussies.
“All week we were focusing on cleaning up the details from our last game and we just wanted to create some sort of momentum and find a way to carry it,” she added. “Once we found success doing one thing, we wanted to keep moving forward and keep pushing the pace of the game.”
The crowd was smaller than last week’s record-breaking gathering of 10,000+, but the 4,000+ fans in attendance were still very loud and passionate.
Team Canada prop Alex Ellis, a former Gee-Gee and Barrhaven Scottish player, was not surprised to see the huge support from the hometown crowd.
“Coming from Ottawa and being born here, having over 10,000 people was special,” Ellis underlined. “Ottawa is a big, small city, so everyone is always supporting each other.”
Canada’s two home Pacific Four Series games were nationally televised on TSN, which was significant for rugby and women’s sport, the local players said.
“It’s huge,” Ellis highlighted. “This is what we’ve been fighting for for so long, to be able to have it nationally streamed. I think having games broadcast like that allows more people to watch our games, even for people who don’t have the ability to watch it in-person.”
“It’s awesome,” echoed Gallagher. “I hope Canadians across the country and wherever they are tuned in to watch to see what kind of show we can put on.”
In sharp contrast to the largely amateur side that last played in Ottawa a decade ago, Ellis is one of a majority of Canadian women’s national team members who play professionally. Ellis’s club team is the Saracens women’s rugby club, based in London, England.
“You have a lot of players in that league who are the best players in the world and so being able to play with some of the best players in the world has been a really great opportunity for me,” noted Ellis, who nevertheless treasured the opportunity to compete at the top level back home.
She also enjoyed participating in several community events tied to the Series, including visits with the Scottish and to a community centre on an Indigenous reserve.
There were piles more events taking place across the region as roughly 5,000 youth got to try rugby for free, while local schools will get to keep 3,000 rugby balls.
“It was great to help out in the community, especially with the younger girls to show them where they could be in the future,” signalled Gallagher, who’s also involved with the Ottawa Irish club.
With a 2-1 overall Series record, Canada advanced to the top tier of World Rugby’s WXV tournament — a new annual global women’s rugby 15s event similar to world championships in other sports.
Also qualifying through the Pacific Four Series were Australia and New Zealand, which will host the inaugural WXV competition for the world’s top six teams starting on Oct. 21. England, France and Wales will be the other participants. USA, which went 0-3 in Pacific Four Series play, will play in the tier two championships.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.