Women’s rugby sevens wasn’t part of the Canada Summer Games lineup when Amanda Andres was growing up in St. Catharines and playing rugby at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School before going on to Brock University for a year.
That was about 10 years ago, and sevens, once lost in the shadow of the 15-aside version, has taken off in popularity since then. It is now an Olympic sport and this week made its Canada Summer Games debut at the quadrennial event taking place throughout the Niagara region.
Andres, the manager and an assistant coach of the team presenting Ontario at the Games, doesn’t consider herself a victim of bad timing and wishing she could compete on the pitch rather than offering support from the sidelines.
“I mean there is always the itch to want to play rugby, but I think for me I find giving back to the game and being able to support these athletes is more valuable to me than being on the pitch and playing with them,” she said. “I think I get more out of it by coaching and managing than I do actually playing at this point in my life.
“There is always that hunger to want to pick up that ball again and run around.”
From time to time, Andres, who is also an assistant coach for the women’s rugby program at Brock, does pick up the ball and runs on the field with the players.
“But to play at this level? I don’t think my body could handle it anymore,” the 30-year-old mortgage agent admitted with a chuckle.
Andres couldn’t be happier that sevens is being played at the Games for the first time in her backyard. Matches are taking place at Alumni Field at Brock University.
“Honestly, it’s really exciting. I’ve watched this game grow from the development stages all the way into becoming an Olympic sport,” she said. “Getting involved in the sevens program, I’ve had the honor to work with incredible athletes who are also incredible human beings.”
Provincial teams are coming together at the 2022 Niagara Games and competing for a Canadian championship for the first time since 2018.
“We’ve been training hard for the last couple of years,” she said. “The pandemic didn’t make things easy, but we certainly made do with what we had available to us.
“I’m really excited for this group of girls.”
There are no players from Niagara on the provincial team at the under-18 tournament, but Jordan Smith and Taylor Pate, both from Shelburne, Ont., northwest of Orangeville, have committed to attending Brock University beginning in September.
“I think it’s really a big learning opportunity for them to what will be their daily training environment.”
Given that players on the team are used to training at a high level at Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) centers in hopes of joining the national program, Andres is confident Team Ontario can handle the pressure of being the hometown favourite.
“They have all trained at a CSIO in their respective regions, whether it’s CSIO Scarborough or CSIO Guelph. There is no pressure here,” she said. They are here to focus, enjoy themselves, enjoy this experience because, for a lot of these girls, this is their first national championship.
“They’re looking forward to having family and friends from all over come down and watch them play.”
There was a “bit” of rugby sevens when Andres was playing for the Holy Cross Raiders in high school and for the Brock Badgers at the post-secondary level.
“When I played in high school, sevens wasn’t as prominent as it is now. It was there, but there wasn’t really a strong focus on it. At the time they were really focused on building 15s.”
Rugby sevens began emerging within the past “five to eight years.”
Aside from the number of players on the pitch, the versions of rugby differ in the duration of games: two, 40-minute halves in 15s, two seven-minute halves in sevens.
“Fifteens is more tactical with more contact,” Andres said. “Sevens is a faster game.”
She believes the future in women’s rugby is bright for 15s as well as sevens.
“I think there is an opportunity for both. It depends on your passion, it depends on your stream,” Andres said. “Not everybody wants to play sevens — it’s not a game for everybody — and it’s vice versa for 15s. I think the future is bright for both.
“You have an opportunity to go to a World Cup (in 15s) and to multiple events, including the Olympics in sevens.”
Each rugby sevens team is guaranteed four games in pool play. Ontario faced New Brunswick on Monday afternoon in its first game.