Guelph rugby player prepares for the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand

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Guelph’s Brittany Kassil has a few friends to thank for getting her to try rugby at high school. Now she is in the final preparations for this year’s Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

“A couple of friends said, ‘You have to try this rugby thing. It’s great,” said the 31-year-old veteran of the Canada women’s national rugby team. “When I was younger, there was no real grassroots initiative. I know she’s big now and they’re trying to accommodate the growth of the game at the youth level, but when I got through the ranks there was nothing. I was 15 or 16 years old before I touched a rugby ball.

Kassil was born in Mississauga and lived in Markham before her family moved to Guelph when she was in the 7th grade. Two years later, while a student at Centennial CVI, she decided to give rugby a chance.

“I’ve had quite a few friends I’ve played hockey with who were a little bit older than me and then they made the transition to rugby and it was just so seamless,” Kassil said. “The camaraderie among the girls was great and just an opportunity to play with a variety of different skills. Rugby is one of those games where you need everyone on the field. You need the strong, the fast, the nimble, the nimble, the fit – all those different facets of the game. When everyone comes together, it just makes the game that much better.”

While playing rugby at Centennial and also on the University of Guelph Gryphons women’s team, she took some time before signing up for the national team.

“I had finished university and done a few camps and done a few things but I wasn’t quite ready to compete at that level when I started out in rugby,” she said. “After dedicating more time and effort to weightlifting in the gym, I finally took this step to the next level. I was the only person to be capped in 2017. They had won a silver medal at the 2014 World Championships and in 2017 I was the only person included in that squad. There was quite a bit of development between 2014 and 2017, but I came into the team late and just tried to do my best
Help them where I could.”

She has now won 27 caps, meaning she has played 27 times for the national team.

“The big milestone, 25, was on home soil in Victoria (in July), which was really nice,” Kassil said. “That was actually my first home game of my career.

“It was so nice to have the support of the home crowd and just hear the national anthem and see people actually sing along and not just me and my teammates belting it out as loud as possible. It was fantastic.”

The Canadians beat the Italian women in BC and then a little over a month later in Halifax Wales.

“Both venues did not disappoint,” said Kassil. “We were greeted by Canadian fans.”

This year’s World Cup, postponed due to the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic, is set to be held in New Zealand. The four-week tournament is scheduled to begin on October 8th and end with the championship match on November 12th.

That’s slightly longer than the 2017 World Cup in Northern Ireland, when the tournament was a 17-day affair.

“It’s quite a longer stint but it actually makes for a better tournament,” said Kassil. “I remember at the last World Cup our bodies just got smashed together. Four or five days between games just isn’t enough. It’s so nice to have the whole week. They have an opportunity to recover, do a bit better analysis and get back together with the team.”

Canada’s pool that year also doesn’t appear to be as intimidating as their pool in 2017 when they teamed with eventual champions New Zealand, Wales and Hong Kong.

“I remember opening the brochure after I gave it to my father and it said ‘Pool A, the pool of death,'” she said. “We ended up in a pool with New Zealand because their placement at the 2014 World Cup wasn’t great, so it was a head-to-head between two top teams.

“Unfortunately we had five games at the World Cup and we lost one of those games and ended up fifth. At this World Cup, we seek revenge, to say the least.”

This year Canada is in a preliminary round pool with Japan, Italy and the United States.

The Canadians have previously played in New Zealand, traveling there with USA, New Zealand and Australia for the four-team Pacific Four series in June.

“Cross-border competition between New Zealand and Australia and obviously between Canada and the United States is massive,” Kassil said.

Canada defeated the USA 36-5 and Australia 22-10 but lost 28-0 to New Zealand.

“It really showed us where we are and what we need to do to be in contention for the World Championship. We were able to familiarize ourselves with the venues, which was great,” said Kassil. “Fighting against New Zealand in New Zealand is a tough battle but now that we’ve got one under our belt we know exactly what the expectations are going to be. We know how loud the crowd will be and how difficult it will be, but we are absolutely up for the challenge.”

The Canadians have also played other games since then.

“We just keep building as a team and getting better and better,” said Kassil. “We are ready at the right time to reach the climax.”

And Kassil and her teammates have a single goal.

“We’re fighting for victory,” she said. “We have the athletes. We invested the time. We’ve put in the effort and it’s just a matter of playing our game and peaking at the right time for that to happen.”

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