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Ontario forward Kelly Russell to lead Canada at Women's Rugby World Cup

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TORONTO - Forward Kelly Russell will lead a balanced Canadian side at the IRB Women's Rugby World Cup in Paris this summer.

The 27-year-old captain from Bolton, Ont., one of 26 women named to coach Francois Ratier's roster Monday, will be looking to erase the memories of a disappointing sixth-place finish at the 2010 tournament.

The Canadian women's best result is fourth, achieved at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 tournaments.

Other returning veterans of the 2010 tournament are Kim Donaldson, Mandy Marchak, Barbara Mervin, Julia Sugawara, Brittany Waters and Julianne Zussman.

Five or six players were unavailable for selection due to injury or sevens commitments.

"This is the 26 best players we had available," said Ratier, who took over the Canadian women in March 2013.

"My goal at the beginning was to have a balanced squad between veterans and new players — experience and fresh minds," he added. "At the end, that's what I have."

The youngsters include 19-year-old fly half Emily Belchos.

New Zealand has won the last four women's World Cups, beating England in the final of the last three tournaments.

Canada can take confidence from staying close to the Black Ferns in 33-21 and 16-8 losses on tour in June.

"We were pretty pleased about the performance in New Zealand," said Ratier. "But we didn't show everything. So we keep some surprises, maybe. We'll see.

"We are not so far (behind). In a World Cup, in one game, you never know."

Russell plays No. 8 at the back of the scrum, one of several positions that Ratier considers the spine of his team. The others are hooker (Donaldson and Mary-Jane Kirby), scrum half (Stephanie Bernier), fly half (Belchos is one of several contenders) and fullback (Elissa Alarie).

"She (Russell), for me, is the centre of this spine — because of her experience, the way she leads and the good communication between her and I" said Ratier.

Russell's younger sister Laura is also on the World Cup roster.

The 12-team tournament runs Aug. 1-17 in France. Canada has been placed in Pool A with Spain, Samoa and England.

Canada opens against Spain, a team it beat at the 1991 and 2006 World Cups, on Aug 1 before facing Samoa on Aug. 5 and England on Aug. 9. Canada has never played Samoa. The Canadian women beat a young England squad 27-13 last summer but lost 30-3 when they met again last November.

Only the three pool winners and the best-placed runner-up team advance to the semifinals.

"Obviously in our pool, England is the favourite," said Ratier. "It's a fact. So it forces us to win and score a lot of points against Spain and Samoa."

Ratier, a native of France who came to Canada 11 years ago and now makes his home in Montreal, has also coached the Rugby Club de Montreal (2003-2008), Concordia University (2007-2008) and the Quebec provincial team. He was also technical director of the Quebec Union and assistant coach with The Rock and Canada ‘A’ in 2009. In addition, he has worked with the Canada U-17 men's side.

The Canadian women will gather for a one-week training camp in France prior to the tournament.

Canada's Women's Rugby World Cup Roster: (with club and home town)

Elissa Alarie, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Rugby Club, Trois-Rivieres, Que.; Emily Belchos, Barrie, Ont., Markham Irish RFC; Brittany Benn, Guelph Redcoats, Napanee, Ont.; Stephanie Bernier, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City; Tyson Beukeboom, Aurora Barbarians, Uxbridge, Ont.; Latoya Blackwood, St. Anne de Bellevue, Montreal; Andrea Burk, Capilano RFC, North Vancouver; Olivia DeMerchant, Woodstock Wildmen, Mapledale, N.B.; Kim Donaldson, Burnaby Lake Rugby Club, Toronto; Jessica Dovanne, Velox RFC, Victoria; Magali Harvey, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City; Mary-Jane Kirby, Highland RFC, Brampton, Ont.; Hilary Leith, Capilano RFC, Vancouver; Kayla Mack, Wild Oats RFC, Saskatoon; Mandy Marchak, Capilano RFC, Winnipeg; Barbara Mervin, Velox RFC, Peterborough, Ont.; Jacey Murphy, Aurora Barbarians, Alliston, Ont.; Karen Paquin, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City; Marie-Pier Pinault-Reid, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City; Kelly Russell (capt.), Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.; Laura Russell, Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.; Maria Samson, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Julia Sugawara, Burnaby Lake RFC, Surrey, B.C.; Amanda Thornborough, Brandon Barbarians RFC, Brandon, Man.; Brittany Waters, Meraloma Athletic Club, Vancouver; Julianne Zussman, Town of Mount Royal RFC, Montreal.

Head Coach: Francois Ratier

Forwards Coach: Gary Dukelow

Backs Coach: Colette McAuley

Technical Adviser: John Tait

Strength and Conditioning: Steve Mackinnon

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