New Zealand Sevens up next for Canadians

The Canadian rugby sevens teams have traded the rainy, grey skies of their Langford training base — they even had snow thrown in for good measure — for the summer climes of the Southern Hemisphere.

Both the Canadian men’s and women’s teams have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so this World Series season is a big dress rehearsal for that. It continues with the New Zealand Sevens beginning Friday in the North Island city of Hamilton and Feb. 1-2 in Australia with the Sydney Sevens.

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The Canadian men open pool play Friday in Hamilton against Ireland and France and continues Saturday against Spain.

Canadian head coach Henry Paul describes it as a “tricky pool.”

“There are no easy teams in the World Series at the moment,” he said.

Canada knows all about that after placing 10th in the season-opening Dubai Sevens in December following up with an 11th-place showing at the following Cape Town Sevens.

“We didn’t achieve our goal of reaching the quarter-finals in Dubai and Cape Town, but as our first major head-out of the year, there was some progression between tournaments,” said Paul.

“As we got through the two weekends, we started to find our identity and that’s what we’re going to push through into tournaments No. 3 No. 4 in Hamilton and Sydney. No excuses. We’re going to try and put some things together and build on our performances.”

Former University of Victoria Vikes great Nathan Hirayama and Harry Jones of North Vancouver will co-captain Canada in the back-to-back antipodean set.

Island veterans Connor Braid and Mike Fuailefau, both of Victoria, and Pat Kay of Duncan have been named to the Canadian roster along with Isaac Kaay of the UVic Vikes. Also named are Phil Berna, Andrew Coe, Josiah Morra, David Richard, Theo Sauder, Jake Thiel with Lucas Hammond making his return from injury for the first time since 2018.

The 2016 Rio Olympics bronze-medallist Canadian women’s team, meanwhile, opens Friday against Ireland and Spain and continues Saturday against France.

Canada is in fourth place after the first three women’s World Series tournaments in Denver, Dubai and Cape Town, the last two which included podium results.

“Dubai and Cape Town were good tournaments for us,” said Canadian head coach John Tait of Mill Bay.

“But as a group, we were pretty disappointed that we didn’t come away on top of the podium—Dubai especially. Although we achieved something, they were disappointed we didn’t achieve more. So, we’ll carry that hunger into these next two stops in New Zealand and Sydney.”

Ghislaine Landry will again captain Canada. Her next convert will be her career 300th in the World Series, which is second all-time. Veteran Bianca Farella’s next try will be her career 150th in the World Series.

Also named to the Canadian roster are three players from Island clubs — Caroline Crossley and Karen Paquin of Castaway Wanderers and Elissa Alarie of Westshore RFC.

The Canada Sevens stops on the World Series are March 7-8 for the men at B.C. Place in Vancouver and May 2-3 for the women at Westhills Stadium in Langford.

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