Britt Benn added another historic feat to her resume this week as she was named to Canada’s first rugby sevens roster for the Commonwealth Games.
Benn, a Napanee native, was one of 13 players named to head coach John Tait’s roster, who will depart for the Gold Coast of Australia tomorrow.
“It’s definitely one of those humbling experiences, it’s similar to when rugby debuted at the Olympic games,” Benn told the Beaver from training camp in Langford, B.C.
“There’s been a lot of women that have played before me that have paved the road and that’s important to realize how far the sport has come. It’s something that I’m looking forward to, it’s a new venue which is exciting. I’m sure it’ll be similar to the Pan-Am games and Olympic venue but it’s obviously a first for me and another checkmark in the books so I’m excited for that.”
The games will begin the following week with Canada taking on South Africa on April 13, followed by a match with Kenya. The following day they’ll face their rivals from New Zealand in the hopes of qualifying for the semifinals and medal matches on April 15.
“New Zealand and Australia are the two teams we have that rivalry with, but that’s just an opportunity and we’re excited for that,” said Benn. “We came back from Sydney (in HSBC World Series play) with a third place finish and went back to the drawing board. We’ve got some new systems in play.”
Benn has been a key member of this squad over the last four years, which has catapulted Canada among the elite on the rugby sevens world stage. They made a statement on home soil in Toronto with a gold medal showing a the 2015 Pan-American Games and then followed that up by winning bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Canada will enter the Commonwealth Games ranked third in the World Series standings.
They opened their season with a third place finish in Sydney followed by fourth in Dubai. The Commonwealth Games are a standalone tournament and will have no barring on the HSBC World Series season.
The Canadians will need contributions throughout their roster as they learned this week they’ll be without their regular captain Jen Kish due to injury. Benn says losing Kish is a setback, but she will be there in spirit.
“She’s definitely going to be missed,” said Benn. “Rugby is a very physically demanding sport and sometimes it takes us out of the game and that’s exactly what it’s done for her. I know she’ll be there in spirit. She’s in our hearts.”
As she gets set to make history yet again, Benn had advice for any NDSS Golden Hawks athletes who may hope to follow in her footsteps.
“I’ve always been a true advocate of if you have a dream, go after it,” said Benn. “That’s exactly what I did. At the time, the 2016 Olympics wasn’t even in sight. It was just play rugby, play rugby, play rugby for Canada. Olympics was never an option. Once it was added (to the games) it was like, might as well go after it, it’s right there.
“It’s an opportunity to represent my country at the highest level. For the small town girls, anything is possible. You have to be committed and just push through. You get knocked down six times, you get up eight.”
Several curveballs were thrown her way throughout her career, but she says she wouldn’t have been able to live with herself if she had taken the easy way out and thrown in the towel without giving her full effort.
Benn also thanked her teachers and coaches from NDSS for helping her get this far.
She said the one downside to training in B.C. is that she doesn’t get back to Napanee as much as she’d like and isn’t able to help out with the Golden Hawks program, which is where she first fell in love with the sport of rugby.
While her focus right now is getting ready for the Commonwealth Games, she admits she has given a little bit of thought of perhaps making a run at another Olympic games, which would be 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
“At this point I would say yes, but I’ve been saying for the last year and a bit to go year by year,” said Benn. “It’s a super physically demanding sport, anything can happen around the corner, you never know.”
For now, her contract with Rugby Canada runs through October, at which point she’ll re-evaluate.
Following the Commonwealth Games, Canada will travel to Japan for the third leg of the World Series, when they will be in Kitakyushu, Japan. Benn has also been named to the roster that will represent Team Canada at that event as well.
Following the stop in Japan, the series will shift to he club’s home base of Langford B.C. May 12-13. The final stop of the tour will be in Paris, France on June 8-10.
Canada is looking to improve upon last year’s showing, when they finished 11th overall in the world standings.