Monday, June 24, 2024

Tokyo rugby sevens Olympian Pam Buisa savours first-ever Canadian women’s 15s win over New Zealand

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By Emma Zhao

She missed last season while recovering from knee surgery, but Pamphinette Buisa rejoined the ruck in time for a historic Team Canada women’s rugby victory last Sunday in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Alongside three more local players, Buisa helped power Canada to its first-ever victory over the vaunted New Zealand Black Ferns by a score of 22-19 to win the 2024 Pacific Four Series.

The Ottawa Irish product from Gatineau was right in the middle of several Canadian pushes that resulted in tries as Canada leapfrogged into second place in the world rankings to match its previous best from November 2016.

“I felt like we knew what this game meant, but I feel like the emphasis that our coach put, and that our leaders and captains put, was on sticking to the process,” recounts Buisa, who wasn’t part of last year’s Canadian team that held its own at times against the reigning Rugby World Cup champions, but lost 52-21 to New Zealand in front of a program-record crowd of 10,000+ for a Pacific Four Series match in Ottawa.

Three University of Ottawa Gee-Gees products were also part of the historic win. Claire Gallagher made her impact felt as a starter and Alexandria Ellis helped hold back New Zealand late in the contest, while Madison Grant was also part of the squad.

Buisa believes that Canada’s on-field tactics reflect many of the traits for which the country is known, and played a big part in the team’s success on Sunday.

“I think it’s finding the balance between playing within structure and then playing outside of structure, and having that fluidity,” highlights the 27-year-old. “I think what’s really great about how we play is that we have so much space to express ourselves… and we allow for individual talent to showcase itself.”

Olympics on the horizon

Canada earned the Pacific Four Series crown following a pair of earlier victories over USA and Australia, who they beat 33-14 in Sydney a week before facing New Zealand. Canada will host the World Rugby WXV world championship finals later this year from Sept. 27-Oct. 13 in B.C.

Buisa’s appearance represented her return to 15s rugby after focusing on the sevens version of the sport in recent years, including her trip to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Buisa did get into one Sevens World Series match this season in Hong Kong, though she hasn’t been a regular since her return from injury. Grant helped Canada secure its Olympic berth last summer and played in 11 games early on in 2023-2024 sevens season, though Olivia De Couvreur was the lone local player who competed for Team Canada at the last stop in Singapore, where she made played in her eighth game of the campaign.

While getting to compete for Canada again in sevens is something she is excited about, Buisa says she wants to focus on her career as a whole.

“I’m grateful and happy with all the work that I’ve put in” to shape an optimal mindset, explains Buisa, who re-evaluated some of her priorities as an athlete following the Tokyo Olympics, and then her relationship with the sport shifted again when she was sidelined by her knee injury.

“For me, it was all about making it to my first Olympics … and then coming back to the game after hitting those first Olympics, the question was, ‘Why am I still there?’” reflects Buisa. “A big thing for me was not necessarily being so outcome-oriented, (although) obviously setting goals and being a high-performance athlete, that comes with the territory.”

Buisa, who made a big impact off the field as an organizer for the Black Lives Matter movement in Victoria around the time of the Olympics, also continues to use her voice in an effort to effect change.

That includes advocating for more investments into women’s rugby in Canada. She notes that most of her teammates are based outside of Canada, which is a testament to their dedication, but also signals a lack of domestic opportunities.

“There’s a need for more supports, to ensure that we’re able to have at some point one day, professional opportunities domestically here in Canada,” Buisa underlines. “We need more investment in the women’s game, and we need more opportunities so that we as Canadians are able to remain competitive and continue to inspire.”

Outside of rugby, Buisa is a host of The Fam Podcast alongside clinical psychologist Lisa Gunderson and Parker Johnson, another mental health advocate. The podcast showcases Black voices and experiences on Canada’s west coast, where Buisa is based with the national women’s rugby team.

“I think a lot of the times when it comes to sports, sometimes when we’re involved in that space, the extent of how we were talked about, or we are given the space to talk about ourselves, is within the context of sport,” she notes. “I think what The Fam allows is to bring that nuance, bring lived experience, bring different perspectives.”

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