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Analysis: Canadian triple threat Sophie de Goede's skill set will ignite WXV 1

By Will Owen
Sophie de Goede of Canada runs the ball during the Pool B Rugby World Cup 2021 match between Canada and the United States at Waitakere Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

In the 1990s, the world of rugby was caught off guard by the sudden appearance of Australia’s World Cup-winning captain John Eales. Eales was a goal-kicking second row, who was equally masterful at the set piece as he was in the wide channels. As such, Eales was nicknamed “Nobody” because “Nobody’s perfect”. At the time, this felt like a fitting title- but with each passing day, Canada’s Sophie de Goede makes that nickname more and more redundant. Because if there is indeed a perfect rugby player in the world, she plays as a number 8 for Canada.

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De Goede is the child of Stephanie White de Goede and Hans de Goede – two of Canada’s all-time leading rugby captains; it is as though Sophie was made in a lab to be the embodiment of any world-class rugby player. A genetically modified Canada captain is about to grace the stage of WXV1, as well as Premiership Women’s Rugby next season for Saracens.

So, just why is De Goede so good? The simplest way to put it is that she feels like a rugby player from the future. She isn’t the biggest number 8, but she is one of the strongest. She can have unflashy games, then you’ll check the stats sheet and realise she was the top carrier. And above all, the typical skills of a number 8 aren’t even her biggest strengths; she is essentially a fly-half in an 8’s body.

Now, let’s assess the benefits of having a number 8 with this skill set. Coach Kevin Rouet evidently encourages her to make good use of it, as opposed to merely sticking to the traditional role of an 8. Let’s view a couple of examples of her triple threat on the ball: kicking, passing and running. Firstly, we’ll revisit Canada’s Rugby World Cup tie against WXV opponents France.

Act I: Kicking

De Goede receives the ball in a regular carrying position. Naturally, the French defensive line remains flat, anticipating either a crash-up or for Canada to play wide.

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De Goede spontaneously notices this, and puts a booming kick in behind. Importantly, the kick finds grass as it bounces over Emilie Boulard’s head. This makes the kick really difficult to field and gives the Canadian defensive line bags of time to advance and apply pressure.

After Boulard takes the ball in, Canada bring her to ground and De Goede jackals herself and wins Canada a penalty. Not only did her kick isolate Boulard, but it was so tricky that the kicker herself could get downfield and steal the ball.

Well – fair enough – she’s got a huge boot on her. But what about in the opposition 22 when the long kick isn’t really an option? Does she still function as an extra fly-half? Let’s examine a try from Canada’s Pacific Four match against the USA:

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Act II: Passing

Canada find themselves on the USA line thanks to a prior De Goede line break. Their entire back-row are grouped together, but not in the traditional sense. As Sara Svoboda carries the ball, fellow flanker Fabiola Forteza runs a standard tip-on line. Typically, a number 8 would also look to offer a hard carrying option in this scenario, but instead, De Goede sits in the boot; the space behind her two back-row mates.

Instead of calling for the ball in the boot, she spots USA fly-half McKenzie Hawkins turning her hips inwards to mark Forteza. She tells Svoboda to tip the ball on, which she does, at which point De Goede breaks her position and flattens up. Forteza has enough time to feed her captain in space.

De Goede stays flat, and runs incredibly square for two or three steps. At this stage, she has already done enough to draw in her opposite woman, so she gives an early ball to Fancy Bermudez, who executes a 2v1 to put Sabrina Poulin in for a try.

So what? She’s essentially a fly-half – but why the hell is she playing in the pack? Is she even worth marking? If all she does is distribute, why not drift off her altogether? Well, let’s look at one more passage, from Canada’s thrashing of WXV1’s Australia.

Act III: Running

Having already scored one try from the back of a scrum and assisted another with a beautiful close-quarters offload, De Goede finds herself as lead carrier, with Forteza as her tip-on option. Fly-half Claire Gallagher is in De Goede’s boot this time, meaning Canada have two realistic distribution options inside a tight area.

Now: this may look like a call of “your woman” from Australia’s Kaitlan Leaney – but clearly she sees this not as a standard forward crash-up, but instead as the launch of a backline move. Leaney massively overreads the play, viewing De Goede’s default option as distribution. This opens up a huge gap for the Canadian skipper to run into.

De Goede fends off Michaela Leonard and barrels into Layne Morgan, using her raw power to crash over. You can also view her other try from this game, or her sensational crash-ball quick tap try against the Black Ferns, if you want more examples of her explosive running. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, above all, she’s a hard-carrying number 8. Remember the pleasant surprise of Sergio Parisse making hard yards when you were expecting him to randomly launch a spiral bomb? It’s pretty much the same principle.

Sophie De Goede’s skillset is an ecosystem which constantly feeds itself. You can rinse and repeat these three examples in any order, as each one of these skills contributes to the other two working so effectively. As Canada’s captain, goal kicker, main distributor, lead lineout option, top carrier and defensive leader, she’s the full package. It’s reassuring for us to tell ourselves that nobody’s perfect, but I challenge you to find something Sophie De Goede is bad at on a rugby pitch.

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Lee Byron 288 days ago

Great article - I watched the Canadian match against the AB's and was impressed with SDG's performance. No backward step in her defence and carries, skillful and can kick! I also watched Canada vs Australia and they were well above the Wallaroos. Again, SDG was impressive. Great player.

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