As Canada prepare to take on France this weekend, Meghan Mutrie highlights the progression of two of the squad’s younger players – Jen Kish and Ashley Pitzer (pictured here at U15 level), who have come through Canada’s age-grade ranks impressively. The two friends are hoping to help Canada beat France in the two-test tour after losing to their opponents in the Nations Cup on home soil earlier this year.
Seven years ago, two 15-year-old girls made a lofty goal: to play for Canada together at a World Cup.
Those two 15-year-olds are now in their twenties and teammates on the National Senior Womens Team, and just nine months away from their teenage dream becoming a reality.
Jen Kish first played with Ashley Patzer for Alberta U17 and once Natascha Wesch, Canadas U19 coach at the time, scouted them both, the two let their imaginations run, Kish says.
We met when we were 15 and just said, Were going to the World Cup. Patzer and I became really close that year and then the more we played together, the better friends we became.
Kish and Patzer were both members of the Canada U19 team that defeated the England U19 side in March of 2005. It was the first time any Canadian womens team has beat England, and Kish remembers it well.
That was history.
Kish has high praises for the Patzer, who represented Canada at the 2009 World Cup Sevens in Dubai. The undersized fullback was Canadas main offensive weapon and the tournaments leading point scorer.
Patzers distinct hard-running style and huge defensive tackles would be impressive for a player of any size, but Kish says its her teammates attitude that sets her apart.
Everybody in the rugby community knows her. Patzer is amazing, she always has a positive attitude and Ive never once heard her complain about anything. Its an honour to play with her and still be playing with her.
Kish, 21, is also impressive when it comes to athletic ability. The Edmonton resident is a natural at whatever sport she tries, whether its rugby, Tae Kwan Do, basketball or football - mens football.
In high school, the flanker played safety for four years on a mens team as she played on the same team as her brother, Jason.
[Jason] got teased so bad by the guys! Things like, your sister hits harder than you, and theyd always try to make us go up against each other because he was a lineman.
It was Kishs football coach at W.P. Wagner High School who actually suggested she try out for the school rugby team womens team and so began her path to the NSWT.
The U23 age bracket was the natural progression for Kish after a successful U19 campaign, but just as she turned 20, the U23 program was dropped from Rugby Canada, creating a massive bridge to the NSWT for the young player to cross.
Kish laughs at the initial difficulty of showing up on the senior scene as a virtual unknown.
I hated my life! Everyone else had done U23 but we were the four [Patzer, Julianne Zussman and Kelly Russell] who missed it, so the senior girls had no idea who we were. I had to earn my stripes and prove myself, but I love it now because Im closer with the older girls.
It has been three years since she first made her bright-eyed debut for Canada, and though she is still one of the youngest players on the squad chronologically, she plays well above her years and is looking forward to playing France on their soil.
Canada finished lost to France at the 2006 World Cup to finish fourth. Kish says she can see a similarity to that infamous U19 victory over England in Canadas upcoming tour to France.
In the England game after we played a bad first half, Tasch [Natascha Wesch] told us, you got yourselves into this, its up to you to get out of it. We started to play our own game in the second half and didnt worry about them, and we ended up winning.
France is a big name, but were going there to play our style and our game. It shouldnt matter who they are. Were going there to win.
The NSWT leaves Canada for France on Wednesday and will arrive at their final destination of Dijon by Thursday evening. The squad will train three times a day leading up to their first match against France on November 18th.
Canada will remain in Dijon until they travel back to Paris the day before their second match against France on November 21st at Stade de France.