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Canada in pool with Great Britain in last-chance rugby sevens Olympic qualifier

The tournament runs June 21-23 in Monaco
Canada’s Phil Berna is tackled by Lucas Lacamp from the U.S. during a match at the Emirates Airline Rugby Sevens in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2022. KAMRAN JEBREILI, AP

American superstar Perry Baker, running for a try at a packed Starlight Stadium last August, put a taunting finger to his lip to hush the Canadian crowd. It was fitting because the 24-14 U.S. victory in the final of the men’s rugby sevens North American and Caribbean Olympic qualifier gave the Americans a berth in Paris and greatly muted Canada’s chances of getting to the 2024 Summer Games.

Second place in the qualifier gave the Langford-based Canadian squad a spot in the last-chance Olympic qualifier for Paris, the draw for which was held Saturday. The tournament runs June 21-23 in Monaco and Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene attended the draw.

Canada was drawn into Group B with Great Britain, China and Uganda. Pool A consists of South Africa, Chile, Tonga and Mexico and Pool C has Spain, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Brazil. The winner of the tournament, known as the repechage, will earn a spot at the Stade de France this summer as the 12th and final qualifier for the Paris Olympics.

Canada, coached by former national team player Sean White of Victoria, is in tough with Great Britain and South Africa the heavy co-favourites in the repechage. The Canadians are a core HSBC World Series team, ranked No. 12 in the world, but the 12 Olympic spots are based on regional balance and are not a pure reflection of the world rankings.

“Today’s [men’s and women’s] pool draw marks an exciting step for the teams aiming to claim their place in Paris and fulfill their Olympic dreams by winning the repechage,” World Rugby vice-chairman John Jeffrey said in a statement.

“Rugby sevens has proved to be a hot ticket for the Paris 2024 Games and we are confident this will represent the sports’ coming of age on the Olympic stage following its debut at Rio 2016 followed by the COVID-affected Tokyo 2020.”

Canada was led by a now-retired veteran core of Victoria’s Connor Braid, former University of Victoria Vikes great Nathan Hirayama and West Vancouver’s Harry Jones in making the quarter-finals of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But that Canadian group avoided having to play the U.S. in winning the regional Olympic qualifying tournament in the Cayman Islands because the Americans had pre-qualified for Tokyo as a top-four team that year in the World Series.

Canada returns to Stade Louis II in Monaco, where it played as one of the favourites in the 2016 Rio Olympics qualifying tournament, only to see Spain take the berth.

The Canadian women’s team, ranked No. 5 in the world and also based in Langford, won its North American and Caribbean Olympic qualifying tournament last summer at Starlight Stadium to advance to the Paris Games.

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