Canadian men’s rugby team seeks podium at South Africa Sevens

The Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team has relied on the veteran caginess of Connor Braid of Victoria and captain and University of Victoria Vikes legend Nathan Hirayama in the early part of the 2018-19 World Series season.

Hirayama leads Canada in scoring with 21 points while Braid has 20 after the first tournament of the season last weekend in Dubai, in which Canada placed 11th.

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The pair leads the Canadian team into the South Africa Sevens in Cape Town on Saturday, where the Canucks open pool play in the wee hours Pacific Time against Scotland, Australia and Wales.

Also named to the Canadian roster by head coach Damian McGrath is Luke McCloskey of Victoria, Patrick Kay of Duncan, Isaac Kaay of the UVic Vikes, Admir Cejvanovic of Burnaby Lake, Jake Thiel and Justin Douglas of Abbotsford, Adam Zaruba of North Vancouver, Andrew Coe and Josiah Morra of Toronto and Matt Mullins of Belleville, Ont.

The top-four teams after the World Series season will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, so the Canadians will be looking for a better result in Cape Town to pick up qualification points.

The Canadian team must overcome the loss of eight pre-season training weeks at Westhills Stadium while 13 of the players boycotted camp in protest of proposed new funding and training systems installed by Rugby Canada. The players proceeded with the season under an agreement reached Nov. 1.

That’s why McGrath selected a veteran group for the Dubai and Cape Town season openers in the 10-event World Series.

“If we are lacking a bit in conditioning, we have the cohesion that comes with knowing each other so well,” said Braid, a product of Oak Bay High and James Bay Athletic Association, before the team departed Langford.

The host South African Blitzboks will be wearing special jerseys to commemorate the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. Hirayama took part in the captain’s picture Thursday, which was held on Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated and which is now a World Heritage Site.

The Langford-based Canadian women’s team, meanwhile, is in second position in the standings after podium finishes in their first two World Series events in Denver and Dubai. The top four teams at the end of the six-tournament season will stamp their tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There is no women’s World Series event in Cape Town.

Both World Series will again feature Canada Sevens tournaments, with the men’s March 9-10 at B.C. Place and the women’s May 11-12 at Westhills Stadium.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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