How Canada's 2014 final loss to England inspired Sophie de Goede to switch from basketball
Sophie de Goede was possibly preordained to captain Canada. Her mother Stephanie, a flanker, was captain of the first Canadian women’s team that played the USA on November 14, 1987.
Just months earlier Sophie’s father Hans de Goede, a lock, was captain of Canada at the inaugural men’s World Cup in New Zealand.
In 2015 her sister Thyssen de Goede played two tests for Canada and has been a fixture in the World Sevens Series while brothers Tyson and Jack were also talented players but succumbed to injury.
Sophie was more smitten with volleyball and basketball as a teenager, but rugby was never far away from her heart. In 2014 she attended the World Cup final between England and Canada in France, a formative experience.
“I remember pretty much all of it. We were holidaying in Amsterdam where my dad was born,” De Goede told RugbyPass.
“We travelled on a slow bus through Belgium and got nice tickets sitting with dignitaries because of Dad’s connections. I was super excited.
“Canada didn’t win the game, which was disappointing, but they were such an inspiring team. I’ve still got pictures on my phone from that night.”
In 2016 De Goede was named Canada Young Female Player of the Year but at Queen’s University in Victoria, where she studied commerce, basketball was just as much of a priority.
The National targeted athlete spent five years as a forward on the Gales team and helped them to a third place finish at the National U Sports Final 8 tournament in 2021/22.
“There are a lot of transferable skills from basketball to rugby,” she said of her switch.
“Hand-eye coordination for sure, acceleration through close quarters, looking to finish with your hands, offloading to space in between defenders and the mental side is challenging working with different positions and teams in rosters.”
Twice with De Goede leading the charge, Queen’s University were National University Rugby champions. In 2019 she was top try scorer, national MVP, and made her Test debut for Canada against the Black Ferns in the Super Series in San Diego.
“That was an amazing occasion and a competitive match, a step up from anything I’ve experienced before. International rugby even despite Covid has accelerated very quickly. The attack is more varied, the kicking games are better and there is a good mix of skills throughout the different positions,” De Goede said.
In 2020 De Goede signed with Saracens to compete in the world leading Allianz Cup in England.
She won player of the match against the Loughborough Lightning in the semi-finals but unfortunately Saracens fell to Harlequins 25-17 in the final with England hooker Amy Cockayne scoring two tries. Still, Saracens had a good season with 16 wins in 20 games.
The Pacific Four Series in New Zealand in June 2022 was a landmark occasion, the first quartet tourney of any kind for the competing nations since the outbreak of Covid in 2019.
Canada was in the fight in the first half against the Black Ferns, trailing 6-0 at halftime before losing 28-0. Impressive victories were scored against USA (36-5) and Australia (22-10) with De Goede named player of the match in both successes.
The ultimate compliment for De Goede arrived in July when she was appointed captain of Canada for a Test against Italy at Starlight Stadium in Victoria, her home field. She scored a try in a 34-24 win.
De Goede has been in special form at the World Cup guiding Canada to the semi-finals, and nine wins in their last ten Tests. She is the leading ball carrier in the tournament with 72 in four matches and has emerged as a capable goal kicker, slotting seven conversions and two penalties.
She was named Player of the Match in Canada’s 22-10 victory over Italy in their second pool match in Waitakere.
“Italy is a dangerous team. They navigate between structured and unstructured play quickly. They can run around you or go through you. They can offload in contact and have threats everywhere, so you must be detailed to unpick them.”
In the past fortnight Canada have toppled the USA 29-14 in the last group game and 32-11 in the quarter final. Canada have won seven consecutive matches against the Eagles to improve their record to a 23-19 advantage in their most common rivalry.
“We know that every time we play against the USA, it’s going to be super physical, they’re going to come out to play. So special having to do it back-to-back weekends. We know it’s going to be super tough and we’re proud that we were able to get the wins.”
In the semis Canada will face England at Eden Park who have won a world record 29 Tests in a row but De Goede is adamant Canada will not submit meekly.
“They have a really good kicking game, some incredible ball carriers, and tactical awareness. Their game management is a strength of theirs so, we’ll need to do a ton of analysis not on the individual players, but how they play collectively,” she said.
“Everyone’s human. There are no machine robots out there playing. We’ll do our best to give them a run for their money.”
De Goede will have plenty of support. Hooker Emily Tuttosi is the leading forward try scorer at the tournament with six; wing Paige Farries has been elusive and fellow loosie Karen Paquin a bundle of energy and aggression. De Goede has a holistic approach to leadership.
“It doesn’t take much to motivate this squad, but you still must appreciate everyone is different. What you say to one person might not work for the other. Leadership is about understanding what makes people tick and letting them find their groove.
“The more experienced players are a huge help. In terms of game management, who I lean on for support depends on who’s playing, but I’ve got a lot of support.”
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