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Canada rallies to stay alive in World Series rugby sevens relegation tournament

Canada has gone from quarter-finalist in the delayed Tokyo Olympics less than two years ago to a last-gasp bid this weekend to stay with the elite teams.
New Zealand’s Regan Ware charges through the Canada defence on Day 1 of the HSBC France Sevens in Toulouse, France, this month. MIKE LEE, WORLD RUGBY

In borrowing a term from another sport, the Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team held serve in its bid to remain relevant on the world scene by going 1-1 Saturday to open the HSBC World Series relegation tournament in London.

Canada lost 24-19 to Kenya before extending their existence in the World Series, for at least another day, by rallying from 19-7 down to defeat Uruguay 21-19 on the hallowed grounds of Twickenham. Jack Carson of Victoria scored one of the tries in the furious late comeback against Uruguay to keep Canada alive. Brock Webster was the hero of the piece with two tries, two conversions and the off-load assist on Carson’s try.

Canada has gone from quarter-finalist in the delayed Tokyo Olympics less than two years ago to a last-gasp bid this weekend to stay with the elite teams. The young Canadian team, rebuilding following the mass retirement of key veterans following the Tokyo Olympics, have been reduced to playing in the relegation tournament.

The top 11 teams are guaranteed to stay on the HSBC World Series, which is shrinking from 16 teams to 12 teams for 2023-24. The No. 12 Uruguayans, No. 13 Kenyans and No. 14 Canadians, along with Challenger Series champion Tonga, are playing in the four-team relegation tournament for the 12th and final spot in next season’s HSBC World Series. Pool play concludes in the relegation group this morning with Canada (1-1) meeting Tonga (0-2) and Kenya (2-0) playing Uruguay (1-1) with the top two teams advancing to the playoff final later in the day.

The winner will be on the HSBC World Series for 2023-24 with the three other teams relegated to lower tournaments next season with select invites only to HSBC World Series tournaments.

The Canadian roster in London includes the Island trio of Anton Ngongo, out of Claremont Secondary, and Lachlan Kratz and Carson, out of Oak Bay. Brennig Prevost of Victoria is there in a support role. Olympian Phil Berna is the captain.

“It’s do or die. You never know what’s going to happen on the day,” Berna told World Rugby. “Keeping level heads is going to be massive for us.”

Every run and every tackle is crucial today with Canada playing for its life on the HSBC World Series. That will hold true through the summer as the Canadian men and women will also be playing in the North American and Caribbean qualifying tournament for the 2024 Olympic Games on Aug. 19-20 at Starlight Stadium in Langford, with the men’s and women’s champions advancing to Paris.

The first qualifier for the Olympics was this season’s HSBC World Series with the top four men’s and women’s teams in the standings qualifying for Paris 2024. First-place New Zealand and second-place Argentina have qualified for Paris in men’s. Third-place France is already in as host. Two-time defending Rio and Tokyo Olympic champion Fiji held fourth place heading into the World Series season-closing London Sevens this weekend with Australia close behind in fifth place. Sixth- and seventh-place South Africa and Samoa still have mathematical probabilities. Australia meets Fiji and Samoa plays Great Britain today in the quarter-finals of the London Sevens, and those games will be crucial regarding Olympic qualification.

The women’s HSBC World Series season has concluded with top three New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. having qualified for the Paris Olympics. France was fourth, but already pre-qualified as host, so fifth-place Ireland has also advanced to Paris 2024. The Canadian women, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallists, placed ninth and for the first time have failed to qualify through the direct World Series route to the Games.

The Canadian women, however, received a big break with the U.S. qualifying for Paris through the World Series and so not needing to be in Langford for the regional qualifier. But that does not mean Canadian head coach Jack Hanratty is minimizing the task ahead.

“This will start at home [Langford] in our training environment first, then we look forward to our Olympic qualifier,” Hanratty said in a statement. “But the goal is not just to be Olympians, it’s to be Olympic medallists, and we have a lot of work to do right now to get there.”

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