June 5, 2023

Rugby World Cup casualties have prepared Canada for the semi-finals with England

EMily Tuttosi grew up on the Canadian prairies, but even that expanse isn’t as great as the funding gap between her mostly amateur team-mates and England’s full-time professionals. When the two sides meet in a Rugby World Cup semi-final this Saturday, the Red Roses will be immediately reminded of what true sacrifice and extraordinary dedication look like.

Tuttosi, 27, is one of the lucky few to play her club rugby in England – in her case for the Exeter Chiefs – but many of her squad-mates have had to make “really tough decisions” such as who they are. E.g. rejecting job offers, refusing promotions or postponing their final exams just to make it to this tournament.

Some went further and gave up their homes. “People gave up having a permanent home and just moved to where the team has been going for the last six months,” says Tuttosi. “The support we received was huge, but there were girls who had to put their careers on hold and had to learn to live like broke students again. It’s part of what makes our group special. Everything we do was geared towards participating this weekend.”

With Covid severely hampering Canada’s recent playing opportunities, the Exeter hooker and her colleagues are commuting between England, New Zealand, Vancouver Island, Nova Scotia, Fiji and now New Zealand again to train, play and get themselves really competitive again. “We knew we had to catch up somehow,” says Tuttosi. “Personally, I’ve been living out of a suitcase I packed in Exeter last May. Some call it sacrifice, others call it tough choices.”

A win against England would make it all worthwhile and Tuttosi has already reaped some dividends with six tries, just second in the tournament to New Zealand’s Portia Woodman. The next challenge is to hold your own against England strikers, some of whom Tuttosi has played with before. “It’s no secret that England have always been pretty strong. They are such a technically solid team. But I think we’re ready for the fight. I’ve played with a decent handful of them, particularly during my time at Loughborough, but it’s all business on Saturday.”

Emily Tuttosi in action for Exeter against Saracens' Poppy Cleall
Emily Tuttosi (left) in action for Exeter against Saracens’ Poppy Cleall. Photo: Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection/Getty Images

As a proud daughter of Manitoba – “I am a classic Canadian. I literally tapped trees to boil sap for maple syrup” – she also wants to show that England doesn’t have a monopoly on hard-nosed intentions. “We are very proud to launch a physical Canadian rugby brand. We know set pieces are a good foundation for us and I think we have to take things like that personally. Taking individual responsibility will help us to become better together.

“I think the pressure is more on them this week. Everywhere we went, it was always “England are number one”. We’ll just focus on ourselves and get ready to go. We’re proud to be the only “amateur” team in the Final Four, but we can’t settle for that. As a team, we strive to do our best no matter what. As a player, I would like to see two semi-finals this weekend that are very competitive and show what women’s rugby is. I think this tournament did a great job showing that women’s rugby is growing and should not be taken lightly.”

And when the next World Cup gets underway in England in 2025, she also hopes that the financial chasm between some wealthier teams and the rest will be at least partially closed. “I’m not sure where the funding is coming from, but evidence shows that when programs are designed professionally, there will be clear results. The only question is when other nations can take this step.”

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