Canada have won the 2016 Super Series. With the World Cup 13 months away, what have we learnt from eight days in Salt Lake City?
Attempting to draw World Cup conclusions from the previous year’s summer tour is a tricky business. At the 2013 Nations Cup in Colorado, England lost twice to Canada and scraped a win over South Africa by a single point. Coming on the back of 3-0 series loss in New Zealand, it did not bode well for the following summer. Yet almost exactly 12 months later England lifted the World Cup trophy
This year, if anything, it’s even trickier with the absence of so many key players preparing for the Rio Olympics. And Ireland in August 2017 is also unlikely to replicate the continual blue skies and temperatures in the mid-30s of Salt Lake City.
However, summer tour performances are not without meaning. After all, Canada’s Nations Cup win in 2013 was followed by their reaching the final in Paris. And this year they look even stronger than three years ago.
Three straight wins, all by wide margins, and over 100 points against three of their major World Cup rivals would seem to put them in a perfect position for their World Cup challenge. Francois Ratier – and Shaun Allen, who had to take command of the team at short notice after Francois was called away – have advanced their team significantly since last summer, when Canada lost all three games (albeit narrowly).
That said, unlike the other teams in the Series, Canada stayed with much the same team. Allen’s plan was to “build on their strong performances from each game and to build consistency”, and that he certainly achieved. If he had played around with his squad more, perhaps the results might have been different.
Nonetheless, having beaten England and France comfortably, it is possible to say with some confidence that if this Canadian team had played in this year’s Six Nations they would have won it. And having the senior team win the Super Series, the Maple Leafs comfortably beat their American rivals, and their university sevens team reach the final of their World Championship, all on the same day, 9th July 2016 will be remembered as a standout day for Canadian women’s rugby demonstrating that this country has a remarkable depth of rugby talent.
The European teams in the Series, France and England, had similar experiences. Both struggled in their opening fixtures, especially in the opening 40 minutes, before recovering and improving over the Series. It was, perhaps, unfortunate for England that they opening game was against Canada whereas France faced the United States. For France that acclimatisation cost them only an 8-0 deficit, for England it was a rather more unrecoverable 39-point margin.
France changed almost their entire team for their second game with England, who also made changes, though not quite as significant. As a result, the 38th meeting of women’s rugby’s greatest rivalry (no two teams have met more often) is probably the most difficult to draw any conclusions from, other than that even a French “A” team can put up a pretty awesome and disciplined defence, and is dangerous on the break, and that in even the most draining of conditions English squad fitness is impressive and their determination unwavering.
After that both put in their best performances in the final games, with France causing Canada the most problems they had faced all week, and England dominating the United States.
And it is, perhaps, the USA who finish the series with the most significant concerns. Over two Super Series, including one at home, they have had just one victory, last year’s 36-28 win over Canada. In other games (apart from the opener against France this year, where their eight-point half-time lead became a six-point loss) they have been well beaten by margins of over 25 points. Of all of the four teams in the Super Series, it is the United States who have the most to do.
The next, and most important, challenge that all of the teams face will be reincorporating the players from their Rio sevens squads back into fifteens teams. How well they do that we will begin to judge in November, when three of the four will meet again London and Dublin.