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Canadian women and men looking to rally at Sydney Sevens

Play starts Thursday in Australia
The Canadian women's team starts play Thursday at the Sydney Sevens in Australia . (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

The Langford-based Canadian women’s rugby sevens team has never had to go through the North American/Caribbean qualifier for the Olympics, each time taking the most direct route to Rio and Tokyo by placing in the top four in the previous HSBC World Series seasons.

That run is in jeopardy with Canada in 10th place with 12 points this season heading into the fifth-stop Sydney Sevens beginning today in Australia. Four World Series events remain, including the Canada Sevens from March 3-5 at B.C. Place. The top-four placings, for direct qualification to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, are ­currently held by New Zealand (58 points), Australia (54), U.S. (50) and Ireland (38). Also ahead of Canada are France (34), Great Britain (28), Fiji (26), Japan (15) and Spain (15) as the rest of the world has not only caught up but surpassed the 2016 Rio ­Olympic bronze-medallist Canadian ­program.

“The results in Hamilton [Canada placed 11th last weekend at the New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton] were not up to the standards that we set for ourselves as a team,” Canadian head coach Jack Hanratty said in a statement.

Canada is in Pool B in the Sydney Sevens with Fiji, Great Britain and the U.S.

“This is an important week for us, and we look forward to competing in what will be a physically demanding pool,” said Hanratty.

Three University of Victoria Vikes players — two current in Krissy Scurfield and Renee Gonzalez and one alumna in Tokyo Olympian Pamphinette Buisa — are part of the Canadian ­women’s team in Sydney.

Langford-based Canada is No. 14 on the men’s side heading into Sydney and resigned to knowing it will not be in the top four of the season World Series standings and will have to go through the North American/Caribbean Olympics qualifier in order to get to Paris 2024. There is the added pressure of having to place in the top 11 just to remain on the World Series circuit for next season.

The Thiel twins from James Bay Athletic Association, 25-year-olds Jake and Josh, feature on the Canada’s roster in Sydney. Jake Thiel is one of the few returning veterans from Canada’s quarter-finalist team in the Tokyo Olympics and a role model for the young players on this rebuilding Canadian squad. Jake Thiel has no shortage of advice or sounding boards in the family. Not only has his twin brother, Josh, joined him on the team but their dad, Jon Thiel, played in three World Cups for Canada in XVs. Mom Jen Ross played in the women’s World Cup for Canada and is now head coach of the Oak Bay High girls’ team with Jake Thiel as her assistant coach.

The Castaways Wanderers of Oak Bay are represented in Sydney with Anton Ngongo and Josiah Morra. Jarvis Dashkewytch is from the UVic Vikes and D’Shawn Bowen and Dawson Fatoric from Pacific Pride.

“As we prep for Sydney we’re looking to simplify our game and continue to focus on the consistency of our performance. We’ve seen the heights these men are capable of reaching, but don’t see them often enough over the full 14 minutes,” said Canadian interim head coach Sean White of Victoria.

Canada is in Pool A with ­Australia, Great Britain and Argentina.

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