CANMORE – Local rugby ace Holly Phillips finally got the call to join the senior national team.
The 24-year-old forward from Canmore was named to Canada’s women’s 15s roster for the upcoming World Rugby’s 2023 Pacific Four Series, the team’s first competition since the world cup last fall.
Phillips, rightfully so, is taking in the huge moment.
A former U20 Team Canada athlete, Phillips now plays for the Bristol Bears of the English Premiership Rugby 15s, one the top women leagues in the world, after moving to her birth country to pursue more opportunities in rugby.
Playing with a goal to make a senior national squad – either for Canada or England – getting here hasn’t been easy for the Canmorite over the years with mental pressures to be elite, organizing fundraisers to play, hundreds of hours of extra practices, and personal sacrifice.
Although Phillips feels fortunate for the support system, she’s had throughout the years.
“Anyone who knows me knows this has been a massive dream and goal of mine to play senior international rugby, I think since I put that first Banff Bears shirt on,” said Phillips.
“I think the nicest part about this is because it hasn’t just popped into my lap, it’s kind of been such a natural progression, and people have been so supportive, and it feels like – this may sound cheesy, but it feels like it’s not just my achievement. I made a post and it said it really has taken a village. It wasn’t sort of a wasted investment, I told you guys I was going to do it.”
The Pacific Four Series starts April 1, when Canada takes on the United States in its first match in Spain. Kick-off is 9 a.m. MST.
After a few seasons away from the Canadian system, the team is getting in Phillips a revamped, more complete and versatile player. That is thanks to her two-and-a-half years spent streamlining her game with, and against, some of the top women players in the world while playing in Bristol.
“I feel so much stronger and physically fit and I feel like I can be really useful on the pitch,” said Phillips.
The series is an international 15s competition between Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand. On the line are spots in the inaugural WXV, a new three-tier women’s competition that aims to be held yearly. The top three teams advance to the top tier and the bottom team heads to the second tier.
According to the WXV, it will revolutionize the women’s rugby landscape, providing a meaningful pathway toward an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup in 2025.
Phillps, who cheered for Canada and England during the world cup that took place in fall 2022 due to the pandemic, said she’s excited the women’s sport is emerging from the shadows of the men’s game and expanding on a bigger world stage.
“I was celebrating the development of the game and it made me so excited to be part of something bigger,” said Phillips.
“The minute I stopped watching the world cup, I told myself, I’ve come so far and put so much into this that I need to keep pushing.
“Being a part of the 2025 world cup cycle has been a massive goal of mine since I was a little girl and now looking at this opportunity, we’re years away, but this is a first stepping stone and an opportunity for me to showcase something I can bring and add value to the Canadian team.”
Canada’s head coach Kevin Rouet said the players and staff are eager to build on fourth place finish at the last world cup.
“Along with the 19 players returning from our  Rugby World Cup roster are some newer faces who have made an impact on Canada’s Women’s Sevens Team, in U Sports play, and with teams overseas,” said Rouet in a media release. “I am greatly looking forward to working with this group in Spain and taking our first steps towards qualification for WXV.”