Sports

Sisters leading the pack as they climb world rugby ladder

July 19, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Written By JAKE COURTEPATTE

After sharing the field for years with her older sister by her side, this week’s Canadian Rugby Championship in Saskatchewan marks one of the first major contests for Laura Russell without Kelly.

Hailing from Bolton, the Russell sisters have dominated the provincial and national rugby landscape over the past decade, providing a leading duo rarely seen at such a high level of sport.

Yet Kelly, the former captain of Team Canada, stepped down in retirement in November of 2017, leaving Russell to captain the Ontario blue to what she hopes would be a back-to-back championship for the province.

Laura is one of 24 athletes named to Team Ontario for the week-long tournament, hosted by a different Canadian city annually.

With their rugby careers taking off from humble beginnings at Humberview High School, the sisters put in a ton of work at the provincial and national levels through the Ontario Under-17 program, the Under-19 program, and for older sister Kelly, even the Olympic sevens squad at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where they brought home a bronze medal.

Both Laura and Kelly already have experience in a pair of World Cup tournaments, having competed together under the maple leaf in the 2014 tournament, where Canada brought home a silver medal after falling to England in the finals.

“To have that journey together…that support system all the way through has been incredible,” said Kelly.

It was shortly after a fifth-place finish in the 2017 World Cup last summer that Kelly announced her retirement, handing her captaincy down to her sister Laura before the Canadians toured England in November.

“I took a break after the World Cup and I went away and travelled the East Coast for a month and just kind of processed everything myself before putting it out there,” said Kelly. “Even to friends and family.”

Ending their journey together since they first picked up a rugby ball as toddlers, Kelly said she was “honoured” to have her sister by her side for her career.

“It’s been pretty incredible for us to be playing together…we could always go to each other at any time with any sort of feedback, cheering each other on.”

“I know her journey, she knows mines…that’s just something you can’t teach.”

As for what is next for the Russell’s internationally, Laura is already preparing for her biggest stage yet as Team Canada captain: her first World Cup at the helm, in fall of 2019 in Japan.

A group of forty players met at Queen’s University in May to hold a camp prior to selections, with Russell key among them.

Newly-minted head coach Sandro Fiorino said he liked what he saw, saying he was “surprised with how well they performed with little preparation,” crediting the leadership of the team.

“Players with experience like Laura play such a big role on a team like this,” said Fiorino. “Not only does someone of that caliber motivate you to push to the next level, but to stay calm, and level-headed.”

With action getting underway at the Canadian Rugby Championship on Tuesday, Ontario hits the field on Thursday at the Saskatoon Rugby Club to face the Prairie Wolfpack, before taking on British Columbia on Saturday. They close out the round robin schedule against the Nova Scotia Keltics Sunday.

         

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