Sean White’s first HSBC World Series tournament as head coach of the Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team, 14th place last week in Dubai, wasn’t one to bank as a fond memory. The Canadian squad is looking for better beginning Friday in the season’s second tournament in Cape Town, South Africa.
“We certainly had our ups and downs in Dubai. This week our focus remains on consistency,” said Victoria-product White, in a statement.
This World Series season is hardly academic with the top-four teams earning berths into the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Canada was a quarter-finalist in the Tokyo Olympics under head coach Henry Paul with a veteran team and would love to get back under White with a youthful, rebuilding squad.
“This group has accepted every challenge head on over the past three weeks,” said White.
“They take the utmost pride in representing Canada and are pushing each other each day to be better than they were the day before. There’s a belief that’s growing each time we come together.”
The quest is personal as White came out of Oak Bay High and the James Bay Athletic Association as an undersized but tenacious back-field player to earn 27 caps for Canada in XVs, including in the 2011 World Cup, and won two Pan Am Games gold medals in 2011 at Guadalajara and 2015 in Toronto and also played in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. But he never got to the Olympics as a player, retiring after Canada fell short in the last-chance world qualifier in Monaco for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now he has a chance to get to the Olympics as head coach in a process that will also include the Americas regional qualifier and last-chance at-large world qualifier.
“There is pressure to win games and qualify but it’s a long process,” White told the Times Colonist.
“Pressure is just being prepared. Qualifying for the Olympics, and placing in the top-11 to remain on the World Series circuit, are the top priorities.”
Selected for the Canadian roster this week in Cape Town are Victoria players Lachlan Kratz and Anton Ngongo of Castaway Wanderers and Jake Thiel of James Bay Athletic Association. Other players from Island sides are D’Shawn Bowen and Matthew Oworu of Pacific Pride and Josiah Morra of CW. Also named were Phil Berna, Alex Russell, Brock Webster, Elias Ergas, David Richard, Thomas Isherwood and Kal Sager.
Canada will play South Africa, France and two-time Olympic champion Fiji in Pool A.
Meanwhile, Brittany Waters’ University of Victoria program is well represented on the Canadian women’s team for the Cape Town Sevens with Vikes players Krissy Scurfield and Renee Gonzalez selected, along with Fancy Bermudez of Westshore RFC. The veteran portion of the roster will be represented by 2016 Rio Olympics bronze-medallists Bianca Farella and Charity Williams. Also on the roster are Olivia De Couvreur, Breanne Nicholas, Julia Greenshields, Florence Symonds, Keyara Wardley, Olivia Apps and Abbotsford players Nakisa Levale and Shalaya Valenzuela.
As with the men, the top four women’s teams in the World Series season will advance directly to the 2024 Paris Olympics. Canada, which closed with some encouraging results last season including making the bronze-medal game in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, was ninth in the 2022-23 World Series opening Dubai Sevens last weekend.
“We bounced back well on Day 2 in Dubai, but it comes down to pool play,” Canadian head coach Jack Hanratty said in a statement.
“Our target is to be in the top half of the draw, and we didn’t reach that target. The group has worked very hard over the pre-season [centralized in Langford], and we look forward to Cape Town and getting another chance to compete.”
Canada opens Friday and has been drawn in Pool C with Tokyo Olympics silver-medallist France, Japan and the U.S.