Canadian women's rugby sevens coach John Tait has had to test his team depth in recent months.
A string of injuries — three knee injuries came in one training session — forced his hand. Players like 19-year-old Charity Williams and 20-year-old Emmanuela Jada, originally thought of as prospects for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, both figure in Tait's team for the Atlanta 7s rugby tournament, which opens Friday.
Caroline Crossley was 17 when Tait summoned her for the opening stop of the season in Dubai.
"They're getting some invaluable experience and pushing our program beyond Rio," Tait said of the youngsters.
The list of veteran walking wounded includes Elissa Alarie, Britt Benn, Magali Harvey, Ashley Steacy and Natasha Watcham-Roy. All are missed but especially Steacy, a pint-sized dynamo who quarterbacks the Canadian defence.
Tait hopes to have all but Steacy back for the final stop on the circuit in France in late May. There's an invitational tournament in England the week before and Tait hopes to use it to give the likes of Harvey, Alarie and Watcham-Roy some playing time.
"I think we'll be in a good position come Rio," he said. "And if another injury or two come up, then the way we've been forced to use the squad this year will be a benefit to us if that situation arrives."
Steacy will be given more time to return to full health. Canada has some time to fill between the end of the Sevens Series and the Aug. 5 start of the Olympics. Tait plans several scrimmages with the U.S. in the weeks leading up to Rio.
After two events on the five-stop circuit, Canada is tied with New Zealand for second in the overall standings with 28 points. Australia, which won in both Dubai and Sao Paulo, leads with 40 points.
After a sluggish start in Dubai, where Canada lost in England in the Cup quarter-finals and finished sixth, Tait's team rebounded to reach the final in Sao Paulo where it lost 29-0 to Australia.
Canada opens in Atlanta against No. 6 Russia before facing No. 12 Ireland and No. 4 France. The Canadian women are 2-0 against Ireland and 1-0 against France this season. They have yet to play Russia this year.
After Atlanta, Canada returns home for the second inaugural Canada Sevens at Westhills Stadium in Langford, B.C.
Hannah Darling, Peterborough Pagans, Warsaw, Ont.; Bianca Farella, Town of Mont Royal RFC, Montreal; Emmanuela Jada, Guelph Redcoats, Guelph, Ont.; Sara Kaljuvee, Toronto Scottish, Ajax, Ont.; Jen Kish (capt.), Edmonton Rockers, Edmonton; Ghislaine Landry, Toronto Scottish, Toronto; Megan Lukan, unattached, Barrie, Ont.; Kayla Mack, Wild Oats, Saskatoon; Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Karen Paquin, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City, Que.; Kelly Russell, Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.; Charity Williams, Markham Irish, Toronto.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press