Guelph’s Brittany Kassil can thank some friends of hers for talking her trying out for rugby at high school. Now she’s in the final stages of preparation for this year’s Women’s World Cup tournament in New Zealand.
“A bunch of friends said 'You've got to try this rugby thing. It's great,’" the 31-year-old veteran of the Canadian national women’s rugby squad said. “There was no real grassroots initiative when I was younger. I know it's big now and they're trying to implement growing the game at a youth level, but when I was coming through the ranks there was nothing. I was 15 or 16 years old before I touched a rugby ball.”
Born in Mississauga, Kassil lived in Markham before her family moved to Guelph when she was in Grade 7. Two years later when she was a student at Centennial CVI, she decided to give rugby a shot.
“I had quite a few friends that I played hockey with that were a little bit older than me and then they made the transition into playing rugby and it was just so seamless,” Kassil said. “The camaraderie amongst the girls was awesome and just the opportunity to play with a variety of different skill sets. Rugby's one of those games where you need everybody on the field. You need the strong, fast, quick, agile, fit – all these different facets of the game. When everybody comes together, it just makes the game that much better.”
While she played rugby at Centennial and also on the University of Guelph Gryphons women’s team, she took a bit of time before trying out for the national squad.
“I had finished my university career out and I had done a few camps and done a few things, I just wasn't quite ready early on in my rugby career to compete at that sort of level,” she said. “After committing more time to weightlifting in the gym and putting more effort into it, I ended up making that step to the next level. I was the only person capped in 2017. They had come off a silver-medal finish at the 2014 World Cup and in 2017 I was the only person added to that roster. There was quite a bit of development between 2014 and 2017, but I was just a late add to the team and I just tried to do my best and
help them out where I could.”
She now has 27 caps, meaning she’s played for the national squad 27 times.
“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 home-crowd support and just to hear the national anthem and actually have people singing along and not just me and my teammates belting it out as loud as we can. It was awesome.”
The Canadians beat the Italian women in B.C. and then beat Wales in Halifax just over a month later.
“Both venues did not disappoint,” Kassil said. “We were welcomed by Canadian fans.”
This year’s World Cup, which was postponed from 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is to be held in New Zealand. The four-week tournament is to start Oct. 8 and wrap up with the championship match Nov. 12.
That’s a little longer than the 2017 World Cup in Northern Ireland when the tournament was a 17-day affair.
“It's quite a bit of a longer stint, but it actually makes for a better tournament,” Kassil said. “I remember at the last World Cup our bodies were just beaten up. Four or five days between games just isn't enough. It's so nice to have the full week. You get the opportunity to recover, do a bit of a better analysis and get back together with the team.”
Canada’s pool this year also doesn’t seem as daunting as their pool in 2017 when they were in with the eventual champions from New Zealand, Wales and Hong Kong.
“I remember opening up the brochure after I handed it to my dad and it said 'Pool A, the pool of death,’” she said. “We ended up in a pool with New Zealand because their ranking in the 2014 World Cup wasn't excellent so it was a direct head-to-head competition between two top-tier teams.
"Unfortunately, we had five games at the World Cup and we lost one of those games and ended up in fifth place. This World Cup we're seeking vengeance to say the least.”
This year Canada is in a preliminary-round pool with Japan, Italy and the United States.
The Canadians have already played in New Zealand as they travelled there for the four- team Pacific Four series in June with the U.S., New Zealand and Australia.
“The cross borders competition is massive between New Zealand and Australia and obviously between Canada and the States,” Kassil said.
Canada defeated the U.S. 36-5 and Australia 22-10, but fell 28-0 to New Zealand.
“It really gave us a mark of where we are and what we needed to do in order to compete for the World Cup. We were able to familiarize ourselves with the venues, which was great,” Kassil said. “Competing against New Zealand in New Zealand makes for a tough battle, but now that we've already had one of those under our belts, we know exactly what the expectation is going to be like. We know how loud the crowd is going to be and how hard it's going to be, but we're absolutely ready for the challenge.”
The Canadians have also had other matches since then.
“We just keep building as a team and keep getting better,” Kassil said. “We're ready to peak at the right time.”
And Kassil and her teammates have a single goal.
“We are vying for the win,” she said. “We have the athletes. We've put the time in. We've put the effort in and it's just a matter of us playing our game and peaking at the right time in order for that to happen.”