Elite Amateur Sport Rugby

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Canada grateful to learn from Australia in women’s rugby 7s at Commonwealth Youth Games

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By Martin Cleary

The Canadian women’s under-18 rugby 7s players will return home with silver medals around their necks from the seventh Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago.

But they also will bring home something even more special that will power their future – the indelible memory of how the 14-minute game can be played to near perfection.

Australia was the teacher and Canada along with Fiji, Wales, Kenya and host Trinidad and Tobago were the students during the three-day women’s rugby 7s course at the Games.

As defending champion and a powerhouse rugby nation whether playing 7s or 15s, Australia was the dominant team on the field, outscoring its opponents 270-10 over five round-robin games and one championship match.

Canada had the wonderful opportunity of playing the Aussies twice and experiencing valuable on-field learning sessions –33-0 in the preliminary round and 50-0 in the gold-medal game.

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“The Aussies were prepared and clinical in their win,” said Canadian women’s U18 head coach Darcy Patterson in an email interview. She also is the British Columbia Rugby program lead for Elite 7s girls and an assistant coach with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds women’s rugby team.

“Many of them train in semi-professional environments with contracts for sport development. They had more experience as individuals in high-level competition and were able to express that as a team,” Patterson added. “They were fun to watch and I am grateful for the experience to play them twice to learn and grow.”

When the 13 Canadian girls arrived in Trinidad and Tobago, they had little time to learn how to become a team. But they used their individual skills and motivation to turn back Wales 21-7, Fiji 19-17, Trinidad and Tobago 59-0 and Kenya 17-0.

“Without competing as a team prior to this event, it was challenging to come together,” Patterson noted, “but the players did, proved themselves and achieved a very positive result.

“We were very proud of Canada’s overall performance. The biggest game that stands out is their comeback win over Fiji (scoring the game-winning try and convert in the final minute).”

Ottawa’s Sarah (Jiggy) Schonfeld found playing or watching Canada’s six games was a golden experience for her.

“I am very proud of our team and our silver medal,” wrote Schonfeld in an email. “It was a tough final against an outstanding Australian team, but we worked hard until the very end and all learned so much from the experience.”

Canada won silver at the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo: Rugby Canada

Schonfeld, who graduated Elmwood School in June and plays for the Bytown Blues Rugby Football Club for the women’s and U18 teams, played in five of the six matches for Canada at the Games.

“I personally learned a lot about the game and about myself,” she added. “I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to play rugby against some amazing teams and I’m hoping to take everything I’ve learned with me over the years to come.”

Patterson was impressed by the play of Schonfeld during the Games.

“Jiggy is a determined, hard-working player who has a bright future in the sport of rugby,” Patterson said. “She was very receptive to growing as an individual and contributed positively to the team. She scored a brilliant try against Trinidad and Tobago.”

Besides playing rugby, Schonfeld called the Games an amazing experience and the people of Trinidad and Tobago are “so warm, welcoming and friendly.”

Her three favourite moments to this point (the Games end Friday) have been the opening ceremony, the women’s rugby 7s medal ceremony and spending time meeting people from all around the Commonwealth in the Athletes’ Village.

“In a multi-sport Games like this one, so much work goes into creating an incredible experience for all the athletes, so I’d like to extend a sincere thank you to all volunteers and organizers in Tobago, who graciously welcomed us and worked so hard to ensure we got this experience,” Schonfeld continued in her email interview.

“I’m also so thankful for the support back home in Canada. Making this team would not have been possible without them. Our Rugby Canada coaches worked so hard to help us learn, grow and succeed, while also allowing us to experience the Games to their fullest, so a huge thank you goes out to them as well.”

And a thank you to the Australian team for providing on-field lessons about playing the rugby 7s at the next level.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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