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Rugby sevens star Ghislaine Landry looks to help Canada take the next step

12/29/2014 04:54 EST | Updated 02/28/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Ghislaine Landry's last foray for Canada was a marvellous overtime try against France that earned third place at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Landry's seventh try in six games at the early December event was a sweeping run from inside her own 22. She beat one French defender and then simply outran the rest for a 10-5 win.

But ask Landry about Dubai and the 26-year-old from Toronto focuses on the 29-7 semifinal loss to Australia that denied Canada a trip to the final at the first stop of this season's women's sevens series.

"To lose that game and to lose it that bad was a massive disappointment," she said in a recent interview. "We put in so much work over the last four months, all kind of leading into getting into that final game. Yeah, it was rough."

It was especially disappointing because the Canadian women had spent three weeks training Down Under ahead of Dubai and had beaten the Australians 17-12 to open a three-game series. The Australian women bounced back to win the next two 17-12 and 17-15.

"We've beaten Australia. We know we can," said the charismatic back, who is tied for the series scoring lead with 45 points after Dubai.

There is more to play for this season than ever before. The top four teams at the end of the campaign qualify automatically for the 12-team field at the 2016 Olympics where rugby sevens will make its debut.

That should be well within the Canadian women's grasp.

Canada finished third overall last season for the second straight year as New Zealand defended its title and Australia finished second.

The Canadian women came close to beating New Zealand in Brazil in February only to lose 24-21 on a last-second score in the semifinal. And they were beaten 29-12 by the Black Ferns in the final of the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow.

But the Canadians are not content with the status quo.

"We want to win a tournament. We want to win more than one tournament," said Landry, whose team made the final in Atlanta in February but lost 36-0 to New Zealand. "But for now it's to get into that final ... so for us Day 2 Game 2, which is the semifinal, is massive.

"We've finished third so many times that I'm starting to hate that number," she said with a laugh.

Would 2014-15 be a disappointment if Canada did not win an event? "Absolutely," said Landry.

"We're not playing to finish third and we're not going to the Olympics to finish third. We're going to win because we believe that we can."

Landry, who did everything from gymnastics to skiing as a kid, decided rugby would be her sport at 10 after watching her sister play at high school. She started playing herself in Grade 9.

"I was fast so they stuck me on the wing," she recalled. "They just said catch the ball and run."

She progressed to the Ontario under-17 and under-19 teams as well as the Canadian under-19 team before heading to St. Francis Xavier University, falling in love with the East Coast while visiting her sister at Dalhousie.

Landry, who played fullback and fly half, was the CIS rookie of the year in 2006 — when St F-X won the national title — and player of the year in 2007 and '08.

St F-X has become a women's rugby power, adding titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with fellow Canadian star Magali Harvey following Landry at the school.

Landry had some exposure to the Canadian sevens squad at university, going on two trips her first year, and was a reserve on the 15-player team ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

She had hoped to go to the 2014 World Cup and went on tour a year ago, starting the first game before pulling her hip flexor prior to the second game.

Landry had been seen a possible World Cup fly half/fullback but eventually pulled back to focus on sevens after a subsequent ankle issue, fearful that injuries could put her on the sevens shelf as well.

It was a tough decision. But playing sevens and 15s rugby was taking its toll.

"I needed a mental break. It was frustrating getting hurt. And if I played at World Cup, there was literally no time to kind of rest and recharge and go in mentally (into sevens) in a good space."

The five-foot-four 143-pound Landry has escaped injury in recent months. But her calendar remains full leading up to the Olympics.

"I can pretty much tell you where I'll be every day up until then, to be honest," she said. "And almost what I'm doing every day. Everything is planned and scheduled."

Canadian coach John Tait calls Landry a cerebral player who is one of the most skilled on the world circuit.

"She can kick and pass and makes pretty good decisions with the ball, which is why she's one of the leaders of the group," he said.

Landry also makes other players better, drawing defenders to help open up the way for her teammates.

"She's really unselfish," said Tait.

Landry is one of 21 centralized players who push themselves to the limit in Victoria.

There is a team breakfast every morning followed by speed, weight and skills sessions on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are conditioning days. Sundays, and the occasional Thursday, are a day off.

They are also on the pitch five or six days a week.

"There's highs and lows," she said. "It's not all flowers and rainbows out there, but we're definitely a family."

It's a full-time, demanding job. Landry says she's normally in bed by 8:30 p.m., getting up at 6 a.m.

"It's a lot of sleep," she said. "We need it."

Told she was too small to play at the highest level, Landry has built up her body. Today, she looks petite but powerful.

"Essentially our bodies are our armour," she explained. "The more muscular you can be, the better you're going to fare in the contact parts of the game."

And while her game has also evolved, she has not lost her speed. She may be the fastest on the Canadian roster.

After the sevens season, Landry looks forward to playing in the Pan-American Games in Toronto in August.

"We haven't played at home ever for sevens at the senior level. So to play within Canada is massive and to play at home is huge," said Landry. "My parents came to the World Cup in 2013. They haven't been to any other tournament. It's so far to travel for two days and it's expensive, with work and all that. I have a pretty big extended family so there's a lot of tickets that my family have ordered.

"To play there and know that you're at home and know that Canada is behind you is huge," said Landry, whose French-Canadian roots come from her father's side of the family. "And it's our first multi-sport Games so we're excited to be part of that."

The women's team will head to Brazil after the Pan-Ams to get a feel of the Olympic sites, "so the next time you go you're focused and you're not wondering that that's like."

The Canadian women, who are centralized in Victoria, will also play at home in April as the sevens series comes to nearby Langford for the first time.

The next stop is Feb. 7-8 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Canada will play in a pool with England, Russia and South Africa.

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