Laura Stoughton--affable, well-spoken and with a great job downtown--is the kind of U of C graduate our school would love you to meet. In August however, Stoughton is the last person Canada's rugby foes will want to meet on the field.
Stoughton has been selected to represent Canada at the second Federation International du Sport Étudiant World University Seven-on-Seven Women's Rugby Championship in Rome. The squad consists of 19 players from Canadian universities. Stoughton is one of just three returning players from the team that won gold at the 2004 championship in Beijing by beating Kazakhstan in the final match.
"We expect much more competition in Rome," said Stoughton, noting that more traditional rugby powerhouses like England and France--who were absent in China--will be in attendance.
Despite the strong opposition that Canada will face this time around, Stoughton believes her team will be better organized than the hastily thrown together squad which won in Beijing.
Sevens rugby is played on a full field by teams of seven rather than the usual 15. The game lasts a quarter of an hour instead of the normal 80 minutes. Even though the game isn't very popular in Canada, Stoughton feels the sport has improved the skills she brings to regular rugby play.
"Sevens forces you to be a good decision maker and an elusive runner," explained Stoughton, adding that the game has made her a better tackler. "Errors are certainly more costly. If you miss a tackle, it probably means the other player will score."
Being the co-captain of Alberta's provincial team and short-listed for Canada's national squad, Stoughton is also an accomplished scrum-half at the 15-a-side level. However, she realizes that sevens is a totally different sport from 15s rugby.
"Beyond the set pieces it's just a very open game," said Stoughton. "There are no real positions. Everyone needs to be able to do every role."
Just like the eternal city itself, a sevens player can't be built in a day. Stoughton has been training hard for months now in anticipation of, first, being selected, and now going to Rome. Her rigorous training regime is meant to help her hit top form by August. No matter the outcome of the championship, Stoughton plans to enjoy the experience.
"I plan on trying to stay a few days afterwards to visit," Stoughton said with a smile. "I've never been to Italy."