Fowler, Gardner return to Eagles for Canada Women's Sevens

CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Ric Suggitt’s Women’s Eagles Sevens will hope to build on a second-place finish at Atlanta 7s, the third round of the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, with a strong performance at Canada Women’s Sevens in Langford, British Columbia, April 18 and 19.

Melissa Fowler regains her place in the squad after not being selected for the Eagles’ home tournament earlier this month, while Irene Gardner will make her first appearance with the Eagles since the 2013-14 Series’ Atlanta 7s.

Gardner was a member of the bronze medal-winning Eagles team from the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, as well as the 2013 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Champions Berkeley All Blues. She was also named most valuable player at the latter tournament.

“[Irene’s] been with us at the last three camps and she’s a very intelligent rugby player,” Suggitt said. “She has a great work rate on the field and has a better attitude off the field than probably anyone I’ve coached.

“We’ve got a good one-two punch, moving Irene into the hooker spot to work in tandem with [Kelly Griffin]. And we know that Irene can always back herself as half back.”

Fowler earned her first cap with the Eagles at Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens in December and scored her first career try against China in the team’s record-breaking win. Suggitt’s squad defeated Russia in the seventh-place playoff for eight points in the Series standings. Fowler also played sparingly in the Eagles’ São Paulo Sevens campaign in February, where a sixth-place finish earned 10 points.

“Having Irene back in the fold gives us more experience on the field,” Suggitt said. “We’ve still got a very young team. We still have a team that’s new to rugby, so having someone like Irene with Grif adds a lot more confidence to our players who are really excelling and learning the game of sevens.”

Bui Baravilala and Kate Zackary each made their season debuts in Atlanta and will return to the squad for the tournament north of the border. Leading points-scorer Victoria Folayan also recovered from a minor injury sustained in the Peach State.

At Westhills Stadium, the Eagles will not face New Zealand in pool play for the first time this season. Pool losses to the reigning Series champion and current table topper have also been followed by losses in the São Paulo Sevens Cup Quarterfinal and Atlanta 7s Cup Final.

Host Canada, ranked second in the standings with three third-place performances this season, will await the Eagles in Pool C. In their sole meeting of the current campaign, the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens Cup Quarterfinal, Canada shut out the U.S., 36-0.

Both Russia and South Africa, pool mates of the U.S. in Atlanta, were also drawn in Pool C. The Eagles will meet Russia for the fifth time this season, having won all four of their previous matchups, while South Africa conceded a Folayan hat trick in a six-try, 36-5, win for the Eagles in Atlanta.

“We have tough teams,” Suggitt said of the Canada Women’s Sevens draw. “It’s going to be a battle in all three games. The girls have done a really good job breaking down the game filim and going through it every morning here before we go out to practice. We hope to be on top of our game and put it together even better than the last tournament, which is always our goal.

“We know we’re in a tough pool, but they also know they’re in a tough pool. We’re not chopped liver; we’re battling for a top-two spot and we’re battling for a top-four spot. That’s where we want to be.”

The Cup Final appearance at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University pushed the Eagles to fifth place in the Series standings, two points from fourth, an Olympic-qualifying position.

Watch the fourth leg of the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series live on World Rugby’s website and follow @USARugby on Twitter for U.S. match updates from Canada Women’s Sevens.

Women’s Eagles Sevens | Canada Women’s Sevens
1. Kathryn Johnson
2. Kelly Griffin
3. Megan Bonny
4. Alev Kelter
5. Akalaini Baravilala
6. Lauren Doyle
7. Victoria Folayan
8. Joanne Fa’avesi
9. Irene Gardner
10. Melissa Fowler
11. Kate Zackary
12. Kristen Thomas

Women’s Eagles Sevens | Coaching Staff
Ric Suggitt – Head Coach
Richie Walker – Assistant Coach
JoAnne Kos – Manager
Nicole Titmas – ATC
Dr. Lisa Bartoli – Team Doctor

Women’s Eagles Sevens | Canada Women’s Sevens
v. South Africa – Saturday, April 18 – 3:28 p.m. ET
v. Russia – Saturday, April 18 – 6:28 p.m. ET
v. Canada – Saturday, April 18 – 9:50 p.m. ET