SPORTS

Canadian Magali Harvey reaps rewards after turning rugby game, attitude around

12/23/2014 03:02 EST | Updated 02/22/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - In 2014, Magali Harvey went from wondering why she was playing rugby to being named the world'd best player.

In addition to winning IRB Women's Player of the Year honours, the 24-year-old from Quebec City was chosen as a finalist for the International Rugby Players' Association Try of the Year — the only woman nominated — and finished second in scoring at the World Cup.

Not bad for someone who was still finding her way on the rugby field.

"I definitely did have a roller-coaster year," Harvey said in a recent interview. "During part of the year, I wasn't sure why I was playing rugby. I wasn't sure that I wanted to be in the (Canadian) program.

"It was only once I realized that I was there because I wanted to be there, not because I had to be there, that I started to change my perspective on things. And it definitely helped me step up my game. I just started pushing harder at training and stopped cutting corners in everything I did."

A star player at St. Francis Xavier University, Harvey could rely on her speed and finishing skills. But the five-foot-five, 144-pound back had plenty to learn at the international level.

"It's a big fish in a small pond kind of scenario," said Canadian women's sevens coach John Tait. "A lot of our players have had that scenario — they've all been the best player on their age-grade teams or the best player at their university or club. Some struggle with it more than others. It's adapting when you're surrounded with other players that are really good as well. You're not going to get away with things you got away with at St-FX.

"Mags, before she got here, couldn't pass and thought tackling was grabbing people up around the chest and stuff. And that just doesn't work at this level. If people know you're not going to pass, then you suddenly get two defenders on you instead of one. It's been a growing pain not just for her, but our whole program."

Harvey admits playing for her country has been a challenge.

"I never really had to pass the ball that much," Harvey said. "I never really had to tackle that much.

"So when I got out of university it was definitely a wake-up call."

While Harvey scored big tries at crucial times at the World Cup in the 15-player version of the game, she did not make the squad for three of the five stops on the sevens World Series circuit last season. And she is an impact substitute these days on the sevens squad.

Harvey has had to learn the sevens game, which lasts 14 minutes instead of 80. There is little time for mistakes.

"If you're one of those strike players, which she is, there's the expectation that she either scores or keeps the ball," said Tait. "And that's something that she's struggled with, just finding her sevens game and how her skills can complement what we're trying to do as a team."

Harvey was a starter in her early days with the Canadian sevens program.

"That was a good thing and a bad thing," she said. "A bad thing because for the longest time I sort of assumed I was fine with my speed, with my (side) step, and that I didn't really need to have to work on my passing, that I didn't have to work on certain things.

"When it finally caught up to me, I didn't have the greatest attitude about it. I'd never really been benched before and that really affected me mentally. I wasn't a good teammate. I kind of backed away from my team. Definitely not the proper attitude to have."

Centralized in Victoria with other women on the sevens team, Harvey says a family inheritance proved to be a turning point.

Before then, she had seen rugby as something that helped pay her bills. The inheritance changed that.

"It made me confront myself, (ask) why was I playing rugby — because it wasn't the money any more," she said. "So I had to figure out why is it I was on the team, why did I train Monday to Saturday and went through hell sometimes. That's when I realized I'm on this team because I'm passionate about rugby. I'm passionate, I want to be the best I can be and I want to be the best I can be for my teammates.

"And I know it's going to sound cheesy, but that inheritance made me realize the true reason I was playing rugby."

Growing up with an anglophone mother and francophone father, Harvey spoke English and French at home. She played soccer and other sports like basketball and rugby, depending on the season.

Just prior to university, much to her disappointment, she was one of the last cuts for a semi-pro soccer team. The University of Laval rugby coach told her she should try out for the Canadian under-20 squad.

"That was the start for me," she said. "I got into rugby at a high level and I really enjoyed it. I decided that was the sport I was going to play."

She was a star fullback at St-FX where she was named Atlantic University Sport rookie of the year and an AUS all-Canadian from 2010 to 2012.

In the first game of her final season, she scored 39 points to break the previous conference record set by current Canadian teammate Ghislaine Landry.

But going into the World Cup in France last summer, Harvey didn't even think she would start — or be first-choice kicker.

"I just went with it," said Harvey, who has won 15 caps for the 15-player squad. "I went along with the flow and pushed myself."

Harvey, playing as wing, was nominated for try of the year for her effort against France in the World Cup semifinal.

Canada, within metres of its own goal-line early in the second half, won a French scrum to start the play. Three passes later, the ball went to Harvey, who turned on the speed before using a shimmy to race 87 yards for a try that gave Canada an 18-6 lead. The French scored two late tries but the Canadians held on for an 18-16 win.

Canada lost 21-9 to England in the final.

Harvey enjoys her rugby and teammates more these days, realizing that time off the field is just as important for bonding as what happens on the field.

The awards, while unexpected, are nice. But she knows fame is fleeting and that hard work can't stop.

"Having that tough year sort of made me realize you're only as good as your last game," she said. "And even with that award, even with everything, it doesn't change the fact that I still have to push myself, there's still someone there for my spot and I'm still not where I want to be.

"It hasn't changed anything. It just motivates me even more."

Canadians should be able to see Harvey on home turf in 2015 in April at the Langford, B.C. stop of the IRB Women's Sevens World Series and in July at Pan-American Games in Toronto.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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