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Thiel twins from JBAA help lead Canada in NZ Sevens

World Series season earns Olympic berths
Canada's Jake Thiel, right, tackles Ireland's Jordan Conroy during HSBC Canada Sevens rugby action, in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, April 17, 2022. Thiel is in New Zealand with Team Canada for the HSBC World Series New Zealand Sevens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

They might be doing double-takes Down Under. The twin Thiel brothers from James Bay Athletic Association, Jake and Josh, are a highlight of Canada’s roster in the HSBC World Series New Zealand Sevens taking place at FMG Stadium Waikato in the North Island city of Hamilton.

Jake Thiel is one of the few returning members from Canada’s quarter-finalist squad in the Tokyo Olympics and has been thrust into a leadership role for this cycle as a young and rebuilding Canadian side looks to Paris 2024.

The 25-year-old has no shortage of advice to fall back on in the family. Not only has his twin brother, Josh, joined him on the roster but their dad, Jon Thiel, played in three World Cups for Canada in XVs rugby.

The Langford-based Canadian side lost 21-5 to Kenya and defeated Uruguay 21-17 on the consolation side Saturday to go 2-3 overall and place 13th. The Canadian men went 1-2 in pool play Friday with a victory over Spain and losses to South Africa and Argentina.

This World Series season is hardly academic with the top-four teams earning berths into the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In previous 2022-23 World Series tournaments, Canada was 10th in Hong Kong and 14th in Dubai and Cape Town. It is looking increasingly obvious this youthful Canada team will have to go through either the North American and Caribbean qualifier or last-chance world qualifier next year in order to get to Paris. There is the added pressure of placing in the top 11 to remain on the World Series circuit for next season.

Josiah Morra and Brock Webster lead the team in scoring with 45 and 44 points respectively;

“Where we are looking to improve is with our execution under pressure and minimizing our unforced errors at pivotal moments, which has been a focus of ours since returning in the new year,” interim Canadian head coach Sean White of Victoria said in a statement.

The Canadian women’s team lost 7-0 to Spain on the consolation side Saturday and were to play Papua New Guinea in the 11th-place game in the New Zealand Sevens. Langford-based Canada, ranked No. 9 heading in, went winless at 0-2-1 in pool play Friday after opening with a draw against France and losing to Australia and Japan.

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 Hamilton.

Canada is still banged up following the last tournament before Christmas in Cape Town with four players making their World Series season debuts this weekend in New Zealand.

“We were hit hard with injuries in Cape Town and we had players stepping up and getting an opportunity to gain some crucial Sevens Series experience,” Canadian head coach Jack Hanratty said in a statement.

“Every stop on the series is an opportunity to test ourselves against the best.”

The World Series continues with the men and women heading to the Sydney Sevens next weekend in Australia.

The Canada Sevens is March 3-5 at B.C. Place.

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