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McKenzie Hawkins: 'I hope that we come off as electric'

By Philip Bendon
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 02: McKenzie Hawkins poses for a portrait during the USA 2021 Rugby World Cup headshots session at the Pullman Hotel on October 02, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

When it comes to sporting rivalries, few match the intensity of the North American derby between the USA and Canada.

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On the rugby pitch, the two nations are amongst the very best in the world on the Women’s World Rankings with Canada in fourth and the USA in ninth.

Looking to close the gap on their rivals, the USA will host Canada this weekend in round one of the 2024 Pacific Four Series at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

Previewing the fixture, USA fly half McKenzie Hawkins spoke to RugbyPass ahead of the crunch clash.

“I always look forward to playing Canada with the classic North American rivalry, and you know they are the number four team in the world,” Hawkins said.

Adding further importance to the fixture is the fact that the USA have not played a home test since 2021, a fact not lost on Hawkins and her teammates.

“It’s great to play the best in the world, and having it at home on American soil will definitely change the tune of the game. We’ll have that motivation in front of our home crowd. So, I’m really looking forward to it on the weekend.

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“I think in America we’re such a sports, enthused country, and I think rugby really suits this country, so hopefully, we will see that exponential rise and Americans becoming more and more interested in the rugby.

“The more that we can play at home, get people to come to the games, live, get people to watch the live streams, the better it will be for rugby in the USA.”

Taking a step back to look ahead on a macro level, the Colorado Gray Wolves playmaker said her team wants to build a legacy for the team ahead of the USA-hosted 2033 Rugby World Cup.

“That should increase that exponential growth, and hopefully, by the time it gets to the World Cups here, we’ll have full stands, and everyone will be behind the American teams.

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“Hopefully, I think about the young kids watching us and I want them to really be inspired by how we play and think ‘Oh, that you know they look like superheroes out there’  I want to be that one day.

“When I was growing up, I remember watching the Women’s Eagles on YouTube links and stuff like that. I know that when I was growing up, I watched rugby at the elite level, and that’s how I felt, so hopefully, we will do that.

“I hope that we come off as electric in our attacking and defensive styles. You know, we want to be making those huge hits that have people standing out of their seats and rooting for us.”

Focusing on the immediate challenge, Hawkins identified the key strengths of the Canadians that the Eagles would need to nullify this weekend.

“So, Canada, obviously being number four, has many threats, and we know that they’re really physical in contact, they’re quick to break down, and they hit the gain line hard.

“One thing that we’ll be looking at defensively is getting a quick fold, getting those double hits on, and testing the breakdowns.

“They also have some kicking threats in their attack, which means that you have to be cautious if they’re going to run or kick at all times.

“So just managing those expectations and knowing their players from looking at past film, but I’m excited about the challenge, and I think it’ll be a good game for us to play here.

“I think that their forward pack is really great, and they’re pretty consistent with who they have been playing in this starting forward pack and their back row in particular.

“I think they’re great ball carriers and also defensively very strong. So, I’ll be looking forward to the challenge and also very aware of their back row, especially as the ten in that first channel, so I’m looking forward to meeting them on the field.”

Casting an eye on the challenges that will follow the clash with Canada, Hawkins expects each fixture to throw out a different challenge and more crucially opportunity.

“I’ve been really lucky to be there [New Zealand] a few times the past few years before rugby.

“I love the community and the culture down there. And to be able to play New Zealand in New Zealand is an incredible honour.

“And then I’ve never been to Australia, so I’m really looking forward to that.

“I’ve only played Australia once this past summer and Canada. So I think it’ll be fun to play Australia again.”

Discussing the impact that head coach Sione Fukofuka has had on the squad, Hawkins was excited about the former Wallaroos assistant coach’s plans.

“As a ten, I’m definitely an attack kind of girl, and so the coach’s attack is something that really excites me.

“I think that it plays to our strengths, so he’s definitely analysed us before he came into our team, saw our strengths, and still wants to utilise them while pushing us to know new levels in our attack.

“So, I think that we’ve been implementing them (new processes and tactics) in training, and I’m really excited to put them to the test again.

“We saw in South Africa a bit, but we still had some execution that we know can be better, so hopefully, after this preparation going into Canada, we’ll see even more of our tactics come to life.”

Taking a moment to focus on her teammates, Hawkins was full of admiration for her backline but did highlight three members of the squad who she feels will be crucial this campaign.

“I mean, it’s tough because I love playing with all of the backs, and if I look at all of our backs. I think that everyone is equally amazing.

“I know that I love playing with Tess Feury, but I don’t think we have super young backs this year. Feury is phenomenal and a consistent player.

“Taina [Tukuafu] is coming in at nine these days. She’s one of the younger players, and she just graduated from Lindenwood.

“I love her style of play; she’s super steppy and is not afraid to play a little bit more free-flowing rugby. So, I think she’s one to look out for as she gains experience in this program.

“Lotte Clapp is a top class, player and human.” Hawkins said before delving into what the Saracens captain brings on the pitch “I think that she has so much knowledge, and she doesn’t just sit quietly with it. She imparts that onto us at the right times, on and off the field.

“As a fly half, she’s my wing that’s usually in behind me, and she’s always talking to me and telling me what’s on and what’s not on, and so I really appreciate that from her on the field.

“She is also a great leader, and I love how she leads the team on and off the field. I totally respect Lotte, and I’m very glad she’s on our team.”

Using the PAC4 as a springboard, Hawkins pointed out that there is no better testing ground as the squad builds towards the 2025 Rugby World Cup.

“I think that we’re going to be able to see what works best for us and what we have planned for our strategy and attack against the best in the world and what doesn’t.

“From the PAC4, we can move into WXV and tweak the things that we see ahead of the World Cup.

“Having that belief that we can play better and letting that fuel our behaviours and our habits. I think those things. If we keep working on them, it’ll become the glue for us to become better and better.”

Hawkins and her teammates will take to the pitch to face Canada on Sunday April 28th at 13.30 Pacific Time with the fixture being streamed live on RugbyPass TV.

Rugby World Cup 2025 is coming to England. Register now here to be the first to hear about tickets.

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