It is apparent the rebuild will be long and involved for the Langford-based Canadian women’s rugby sevens team, which has fallen a long way from its heady days of reaching the Olympic podium with bronze at Rio 2016.
Canada went 0-3 Saturday to finish 1-4 overall in the Emirates Dubai Sevens. Breanne Nicholas led Canada with 24 points, including a tournament-leading seven converts. Australia won the championship.
The Canadian women, previously regulars among the world top-three with New Zealand and Australia, are coming off a massively disappointing ninth-place showing in the Tokyo Olympics.
With some of the old guard stepping down following a chaotic year, which included a player revolt in Langford, the mantle has been passed to returning veterans Nicholas, former University of Victoria Vikes star Pamphinette Buisa, Victoria native and Queen’s University grad Olivia Apps, Elissa Alarie and Emma Chown. They are to mentor team newcomers, including UVic Vikes players Renee Gonzalez and Krissy Scurfield, and Sabrina Poulin, Olivia De Couvreur, Nakisa Levale, Asia Hogan Rochester, Fancy Bermudez and Chloe Daniels.
One of the players who must be replaced is former captain Ghislaine Landry, among the all-time world greats, who recently retired.
The Canadian men also finished 1-4 overall in Dubai after going 1-1 Saturday.
The versatile Lachlan Kratz of Victoria, also selected for the XVs national team’s recent fall Tests, was among the young players in Dubai as Canada is also facing a major rebuild on the male sevens side.
Kratz, Cody Nhanala and Jarvis Dashkewytch made their sevens debuts for Canada while Nick Allen, Thomas Isherwood, and Elias Ergas were on their first tours outside Canada.
Several key sevens veterans retired after leading Canada into the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics. With Connor Braid of Victoria, UVic Vikes legend Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones of North Vancouver, Justin Douglas of Abbotsford and Conor Trainor of Vancouver gone, spots have opened for the next generation of aspirants at the national training centre in Langford.
Among the few remaining veterans is Jake Thiel, who captained Canada in Dubai with fellow Olympian Phil Berna out with injury.
“I came up under such great leaders like Hirayama, Braid, Jones and John Moonlight,” Thiel has said.
“The biggest thing I learned from them was how such incredible leaders they were off the pitch, as well. I look forward now to being a team leader.”
South Africa literally ran past the U.S. 42-7 in the Emirates Dubai men’s championship final. Argentina defeated two-time Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic champions Fiji 19-12 for the bronze.
The national sides will remain in Dubai for the second event of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next week as the series looks to economize its geographic footprint due to the lingering effects of the pandemic.
The 2022 Canadian stops in the World Series are at B.C. Place on Feb. 26-27 for the men and at Starlight Stadium in Langford for the women on April 30-May 1.