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Tough rebuilding process continues for Rugby Canada in sevens

The arduous rebuilding process continued for the Langford-based Canadian men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams, which went a combined 0-5 on the opening day Friday of the Dubai Sevens.
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Canada’s Elissa Alarie makes a pass during a training session prior to the Dubai Emirates Airline Rugby Sevens 2021 women’s competition, in Dubai, U.A.E. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby-KLC Fotos, Mike Lee

The arduous rebuilding process continued for the Langford-based Canadian men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams, which went a combined 0-5 on the opening day Friday of the Dubai Sevens.

Canada lost 52-0 to Australia and 12-10 to Spain in women’s play with Breanne Nicholas and Olivia De Couvreur scoring the lone Canadian tries on the day.

Canada lost 37-14 to the U.S., 24-17 to Australia and 26-16 to Kenya on the men’s side as Josiah Morra led the Canadian team with six tries while Cooper Coats had 33 points.

That follows Canada going 1-4 in both men’s and women’s at the HSBC World Series-opening Emirates Sevens last week, also in Dubai. It is apparent the rebuild will be long and involved for the Canadian teams. The men are re-tooling as many of the cornerstone players that led Canada to the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics have retired.

The Canadian women’s team has fallen a long way from its heady days of reaching the Olympic podium with bronze at Rio 2016. The Canadian women, previously regulars among the world top-three with New Zealand and Australia, are coming off a stunningly disappointing ninth-place showing in the Tokyo Olympics.

“There are always people that expect podiums with the national women’s programs,” said interim Canadian sevens head coach Jack Hanratty, in a video interview provided by Rugby Canada before the Dubai tournaments.

“That was something we were far away from this summer [in Tokyo]. There is an air of determination from the players who have been there. The expectation is always for more. This might not happen overnight and it is going to be difficult to get back on that podium. There is an air of determination that this national team returns to the podium in the next number of years.”

Hanratty is optimistic about the re-boot.

“There’s lots of tremendous energy in the group, he said.

“We are restarting the cycle here and there is a big level of excitement. We can only learn by doing. This team should be judged on its resiliency. When things don’t go right, they get back up and go again. We might not get there by the first tournament and might not by the second tournament, but the energy and engagement from this group is really enjoyable.”

With some of the old guard stepping down following a chaotic year, which included a player revolt in Langford, the mantle has been passed to returning veterans Nicholas, former ­University of Victoria Vikes star Pamphinette Buisa, Victoria native and Queen’s University grad Olivia Apps, Elissa Alarie and Emma Chown. They are to mentor team newcomers, including UVic Vikes players Renee Gonzalez and Krissy Scurfield, and De Couvreur, Sabrina Poulin, Nakisa Levale, Asia Hogan Rochester, Fancy Bermudez and Chloe Daniels.

One of the players who must be replaced is former captain Ghislaine Landry, among the all-time world greats, who recently retired.

The new-look Canadian men’s team in Dubai is ­featuring Lachlan Kratz and Brennig Prevost, both of Victoria, with Kratz, Cody Nhanala and Jarvis Dashkewytch making their sevens debuts for Canada while Nick Allen, Thomas Isherwood, and Elias Ergas are on their first tours outside Canada.

They are replacing post-Olympic retired veterans ­Connor Braid of Victoria, UVic Vikes legend Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor as spots have opened up for the next generation in Langford.

The 2022 Canadian stops in the HSBC World Series are at B.C. Place on Feb. 26-27 for the men and at Starlight Stadium in Langford for the women on April 30-May 1.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com