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Canada confident ahead of France clash

As the Canada women’s rugby side prepare for their first game against France this Tuesday, Meghan Mutrie talks to two of the squad’s most established players both on the pitch and off it. Dr Araba Chintoh and Dr Maria Gallo have achieved much success on the rugby paddock and just as much off it - both having received PhD’s in their respective fields.

By Meghan Mutrie.

By Meghan Mutrie

Successful athletes high achieving ways have a tendency to spill off the pitch and into their personal and professional lives.

The current Canada womens national side combines for 21 undergraduate degrees, 8 Masters degrees or graduate diplomas, and two PhDs. Add three more Masters degrees and another PhD to the tally if injured players are included, and the squad becomes quite a remarkable little clich.

Maria Gallo has 47 caps, was captain of the fourth-place Canadian side at the 2009 Sevens World Cup, and just three months after that, received her Post Doctorate degree in Exercise Science from the University of British Columbia.

Maintaining that precarious balance, she is now an instructor at UBC, having spent over 10 years specialising in the areas of supplementing, as well as gene and blood doping, and is vice-captain of the Canada squad heading into the 2010 World Cup.

Gallo is classically outspoken and candid about the alphabet of letters behind her name.

My happiness doesnt come just from work. Work for me is what I like to do and what I am good at and it supports me financially so I can do what I love. I enjoy travelling, friends, and rugby. I do like to be challenged intellectually, but its not my only source of happiness.

With the on-field skills and smarts to back it up, her brashness and honesty have made the Argentine-born, 32-year-old a natural leader on most rugby squads shes played for.

Meanwhile Dr Araba Chintohs resurrection on the Canadian squad after a five-year hiatus is the second time her and Gallo have been teammates; they played together for four years, including the 2002 World Cup.

Chintohs international rugby career suffered an interruption after 16 caps, but the second-row could not be happier to be back.

You dont realise how much you miss it until youre back. I love the people, I love the rugby, I love the tough day-to-day schedule on tours, yes it hurts, but I really missed it.

Focusing on pharmacology and schizophrenia, the 31-year-old earned her Masters in psychiatry from McGill. She received a PhD from the University of Toronto in the same area, just two days before boarding a plane for the UK where she is currently working on her MBBS at Newcastle University.

With an impressive CV, it would be expected for Chintoh to have an ego to match, but the slender 61 lock is as humble and as personable as they come.

Chintoh has no personal connection to her research focus in schizophrenia; rather she stumbled upon it when an adolescent curiosity combined with a chance pairing with an advisor whose research happened to centre on the illness.

Ive been obsessed with serotonin since I was 12.

There has been quite a turnover in personnel on the Canada side since Chintohs last appearance for the squad in 2004, and with the new faces comes a new, more professional ethos.

Im not saying we didnt have it before, but there are just different standards now when it comes to fitness. Everyone is on the same page and its very noticeable, especially coming in as an outsider. I dont feel like I should be here yet, but its not weird like Im struggling to fit in, theres just a lot to catch up on. I just feel like Im ready to get back in.

The Ghana-born doctor believes a win over France on this tour should be expected.

The increase in speed, skill and talent on this team makes for a win against France a complete possibility. It comes down to really believing it. I saw the match at Nations Cup and they didnt score on us. [A win] is going to be really amazing when it happens.

Even though Gallo spent a half-decade apart from Chintoh, it sounds like the two were in discussion.

Since we lost to France at the 2006 World Cup, our mindset has changed. There is new protocol in place and personnel that can achieve those protocols. It felt like there used to be doubt, but its not there anymore; we really believe, says Gallo.

By the 2010 World Cup, Canada will have played three of the top five nations in the world in the past year. Gallo says that was a very deliberate decision by the management.

Were aiming at the top nations, targeting the high horses because we know we can compete with them. This belief has trickled down from the coaches and leaders on the team. Ill be genuinely disappointed if we dont win; we can compete with them.

Canada plays France in Dijon on Wednesday, November 18, and again in Paris at Stade de France on Saturday, November 21 as the curtain raiser before the French men play Samoa.