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Langford-based Canada avoids relegation to remain in rugby sevens World Series

Canada defeated Kenya 12-7 in the final of the relegation tournament to earn the final spot in the World Series for 2023-24
Brock Webster was the standout of the tournament for Canada. DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian interim head coach Sean White of Victoria said he could feel the support from home all the way to the hallowed ground of Twickenham Stadium in London. Every little bit helped to keep Langford-based Canada running with the big dogs next season in the men’s HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series.

Canada defeated Kenya 12-7 in the tension-laden final of the relegation tournament Sunday to earn the 12th and final spot in the World Series for 2023-24. The Canadians, who finished 3-1, beat Tonga 43-7 earlier in the day in the final game of group play to advance to the final.

“A special thank you to our family, friends and fans back home, whose support we could hear all the way in Twickenham,” said former James Bay Athletic Association and Canadian XVs and sevens player White, in a statement through Rugby Canada.

“We’re so proud of what we have accomplished, coming out on top in two must-win games,” added the Oak Bay High product.

“Everyone in the program has worked incredibly hard for this — the players here in London and those back home who supported us and brought it every day to training [in Langford.].”

The top 11 teams from this season were 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, played in the four-team relegation tournament for the 12th and final spot in next season’s HSBC World Series. Canada will remain a core nation in the World Series while Kenya, Uruguay and Tonga are relegated to lower tournaments next season with select invites only to HSBC World Series tournaments.

“There’s so much competition on the Series, dropping it down to 12 teams, it’s a fight every game,” White told World Rugby. “We’re so proud to come out on the right end.”

Canada lost to Kenya to open pool play but rebounded with a death-defying comeback win over Uruguay to stay alive and then beat Tonga to get another chance at Kenya in the final, which the Canadians took.

“Our players never stopped believing. Every time they hit a setback, they got right back in the game,” said Nathan Bombrys, Rugby Canada CEO, in a statement.

The youthful Canadian team is rebuilding following the mass retirement of key veterans such former UVic Vikes great Nathan Hirayama, Connor Braid and Mike Fuailefau of Victoria, Pat Kay of Duncan and Harry Jones following the Tokyo Olympics, in which Canada reached the quarter-finals.

The Canadian roster in London on the weekend included the Island trio of Anton Ngongo out of Claremont Secondary and Lachlan Kratz and Jack Carson out of Oak Bay. Carson and Alex Russell had three tries against Tonga and Russell winning try against Kenya. Brennig Prevost of Victoria was there in a support role. Olympian Phil Berna was the captain and Brock Webster the standout of the tournament for Canada.

“It feels great, it feels like that’s where we’re supposed to be,” Berna told World Rugby.

“We’ve been building towards this in the latter half of the season and it all came together today. It was awesome.”

The spotlight now shifts to Olympic qualification for Paris 2024.

“We now turn our focus towards qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics in Langford this August, where we will have the rare and valuable opportunity to qualify on home soil,” said Bombrys.

The Canadian men’s and women’s teams will 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. Tickets are now on sale at

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, second-place Argentina and third-place and two-time defending Rio and Tokyo Olympic-champion Fiji are Paris-bound in men’s following the season-ending London Sevens on Sunday. Fourth-place France is pre-qualified as host, so fifth-place Australia also won an Olympic berth.

The women’s HSBC World Series season concluded earlier 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 huge 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 will be taking anything for granted against relative regional minnows such as Mexico and Jamaica at Starlight Stadium this summer.

“This will start at home [Langford] in our training environment first, then we look forward to our Olympic qualifier,” Hanratty said in a statement.

After that, Hanratty is looking to fry bigger fish than minnows: “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.”