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Canada coach picks veteran squad for Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland

Canada coach Francois Ratier has selected a veteran roster for the Women's Rugby World Cup next month in Ireland, with 18 players returning from the team that finished runner-up at the 2014 tournament.

Canada coach Francois Ratier has selected a veteran roster for the Women's Rugby World Cup next month in Ireland, with 18 players returning from the team that finished runner-up at the 2014 tournament.

The 28-woman squad is the exact same as the one Ratier took to New Zealand last month for International Women's Rugby Series.

"There is no surprise ... I didn't have any real reason to change it," Ratier said of his roster.

"Those are the best players we have right now," he added.

Ratier has worked with essentially the same player pool since the last World Cup, when Canada lost 21-9 to England in the final. The squad was augmented by the return of captain Kelly Russell, Elissa Alarie, Karen Paquin and Magali Harvey from the sevens program after the Rio Olympics. 

Canada, ranked third in the world, is in Pool A with No. 2 New Zealand, No. 10 Wales and No. 23 Hong Kong at the 12-country World Cup.

Defending World Cup champion England moved atop the world rankings after beating New Zealand 29-21 in Rotorua at the International Women's Rugby Series, knocking the four-time World Cup-winning Black Ferns out of top spot. 

"New Zealand and England are the favourites, there's no doubt about that," said Ratier. "Based on their rankings but also numbers of victories at the competition and the (rugby) culture in their country, etcera etcera.

"But we are here. Underdogs but quality underdogs. France is here too. And Ireland, because they are hosting the tournament."

Canada went 1-2-0 at the recent New Zealand tournament, losing 28-16 to the Black Ferns and 27-20 to England before beating No. 6 Australia 45-5.

Prior to New Zealand, Canada beat the eighth-ranked Americans twice in March.

Ratier believes England is a deserved No. 1 but can be taken down.

"Their team is balanced," said Ratier. "They are super-athletic, skilled. I think they are really beatable too.

"We lost to them by seven points and we made stupid mistakes when we had the momentum."

Ratier will be looking to a strong spine to lead his team in hooker Laura Russell, captain and No. 8 (and sister) Kelly Russell, scrum halves Chelsea Guthrie, Lisa Josephson and Brianna Miller, fly half Emily Belchos and fullback Julianne Zussman.

New Zealand dominated the World Cup between 1998 and 2010 but finished a disappointing fifth at the last tournament, meaning the Black Ferns were not one of the seeded teams in the draw for this tournament. That meant one of the seeds had to face them with England and France only too happy to see the draw saddle the Canadians get with that challenge.

Canada plays Hong Kong on Aug. 9 and Wales on Aug. 13 before facing off with the Black Ferns on Aug. 17. All three matches are in Dublin.

The three pool winners plus the best second-placed team advance to the World Cup quarter-finals, meaning the Canada-New Zealand game will be a high-stakes affair.

The women leave for Ireland on July 26 after a sendoff in Toronto.

Harvey, Belchos, Alarie, Paquin, Zussman, Kelly Russell, Andrea Burk, Latoya Blackwood, and Jacey Grusnick are all back from the starting 15 in the 2014 final. Laura Russell, Olivia DeMerchant, Mary-Jane Kirby, Tyson Beukeboom, Kayla Mack and Brittany Waters were on the bench that day.

Harvey led Canada with 61 points at the 2014 tournament and was subsequently named IRB Women’s Player of the year.

Kelly Russell and Paquin helped Canada to the bronze medal in Rio last summer. Alarie was a travelling reserve while Harvey was left at home. Belchos and Mack were released from the sevens program earlier last year.

Unlike the men's 15s team and both the men's and women's sevens program, the women's 15s squad is not centralized or carded.


Canada Rugby World Cup Squad

Elissa Alarie, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC, Trois Rivieres, Que.; Emily Belchos, Westshore RFC (, Innisfil, Ont.; Tyson Beukeboom, Aurora Barbarians, Uxbridge, Ont.; Latoya Blackwood, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC, Montreal; Andrea Burk, Capilano RFC, North Vancouver; Olivia DeMerchant, Woodstock Wildmen, Mapledale, N.B.; Jacey Grusnick, Aurora Barbarians, Alliston, Ont.; Chelsea Guthrie, Stratchona Druids, Edmonton; Magali Harvey, Club de Rugby de Quebec, Quebec City; Lori Josephson, Aurora Barbarians, Beaverton, Ont.; Brittany Kassil, Guelph Redcoats, Guelph, Ont.; Jane Kirby, Highland Fergus Rugby Club, Brampton, Ont.; Kayla Mack, Saskatoon Wild Oats, Saskatoon; Carolyn McEwen, Burnaby Lake RFC, Vancouver; DaLeaka Menin, Calgary Hornets, Vulcan, Alta.; Barbara Mervin, Westshore RFC, Peterborough, Ont.; Brianna Miller, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC, Pointe-Claire, Que.; Chelsey Minter, Westshore RFC, Victoria; Cindy Nelles, Belleville Bulldogs, Belleville, Ont.; Karen Paquin, Club de Rugby de Quebec, Quebec City; Frederique Rajotte, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue RFC, Montreal; Laura Russell, Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.; Kelly Russell (capt.), Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.; Kristy Sargent, Leprechaun Tigers, Edmonton; Alex Tessier, Montreal Barbarians, Sainte-Clotilde-de-Horton, Que.; Amanda Thornborough, Westshore RFC, Brandon, Man.; Brittany Waters, Meraloma Athletic Club, Vancouver; Julianne Zussman, Castaway Wanderers, Montreal

Non-travelling Reserves:

Gillian Boag, Capilano RFC, Calgary; Anais Holly, TMRRFC, Montreal; Daria Keane, Guelph Redcoats, Sarnia, Ont.; Katie McNally, Castaway Wanderers, Guelph, Ont.; Camile Provencal-Aube, Abenakis et CRQ, Sherbrooke, Que.; Natasha Smith, Barrhaven Scottish, Ottawa; Sara Svoboda, Belleville Bulldogs, Belleville, Ont.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press