Marauder Nelles feels hard work has paid dividends

Playing for Team Canada never truly gets old. Sure, selection camps are less of an ordeal at second blush, and the group of all-stars that surround you seem a bit more familiar. Your role grows and expands, and the expectations of your coaches are noticeably higher. But, at its core, the international level should always be surreal.

Photo: McMaster Athletics

McMaster’s Cindy Nelles finds herself in such a position this summer, as the Marauder rugby standout was named to Canada’s Under-20 National Fifteens team for a second time on June 10. Two years ago, Nelles was 17, and sizing up international rugby as an unknown. Fast forward to today, and she stands as one of the veteran leaders of the team head coach Sandro Fiorino will take to London, England in July for the Under-20 Nations Cup.

She might be more comfortable in Red and White today, but Nelles insists that the lustre of the international stage has not worn off.

“I’m extremely excited and honoured that I get to have this opportunity to play with the national team,” says Nelles. “It’s huge as far as development goes for me, in terms of playing high level games with great players and against great opposition. I’m honoured to be able to have another crack at this level.”

She does admit, though, that the anxiety of two years ago has not followed her this summer. Another go around brings more confidence, and Nelles hopes that she was able to instill some of that in her younger teammates when the group came together for selection camp at Fletcher’s Field in Toronto.

“There were less nerves and I was a little more comfortable [this time],” says Nelles. “In terms of my role on the team as well, I identify myself as a leader. I was able to come in with some calm energy and motivate some of the other players, and help the tryout go a little smoother. Because I know that when you’re trying out for a national team for the first time, it can be very nerve-wracking.”

Nelles’ role extends well beyond seniority. Fiorino acknowledges that the Marauder is among his most lethal attacking options as the biggest and strongest of Canada’s frontline players, and will be counted upon to provide scoring when tournament play gets underway. Her coach’s confidence is welcome for Nelles, who sees her hard work paying dividends.

“It’s really good to know that Sandro trusts me and holds me in that esteem,” she says. “It’s good to know that he looks to me as a leader. It just means that I have to work exceptionally hard to maintain that. But it’s nice to hear, because it means that my efforts have been noticed.”

The athletes comprising Canada’s U-20 team will have very little time to familiarize themselves with one another, as the team will hold only a six-day training camp before departing for England in early July. But Nelles is confident that the squad will be a cohesive unit by the time it ships out, having already traced the general outlines of Fiorino’s gameplan during selection camp.

“You have a week to get your tactics and your game plan down, and a week to make sure that the people who are actually your teammates feel like they are,” says Nelles “Training camp usually does a good job of that though, because you’re staying in a central location and you’re constantly around one another.”

This summer stands as another step toward the ultimate goal for Nelles: to one day crack the lineup of the Senior Women’s National Fifteens Team. She approaches the tournament a game at a time, with no overarching goal but to enjoy her best rugby when it counts.

“I just look to gain experience from these games and of course, to perform well,” says Nelles. “I’m looking to peak during that tournament so that I can perform to my best and have good games.”

Preparation for that test begins in earnest on June 30, when Nelles and her teammates gather for a six-day training camp, to be capped by an exhibition contest against the Ontario Storm club team. From there, the Canadians migrate to England, where the U-20 Nations Cup will be played between July 8-21.