The Canadian men hope playing before a hometown crowd at this weekend’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event can help pull them back from the abyss.
The men sit 14th in the overall standings after six of 11 events in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings putting them in danger of relegation.
They need to reach the quarterfinals of the next four tournaments — while managing wins when playing the teams ahead of them — to gain enough points to climb into 11th place or better and avoid playing in a relegation playoff.
“We know where we’re at right now in the standings,” centre/wing Josiah Morra said during a practice this week. “We know what we’re capable of. Having the crowd and our home turf, it’s going to be a huge impact for us.”
This year’s tournament, being held Friday to Sunday at BC Place Stadium, will for the first time also include a full slate of 12 women’s teams competing at the same time as the men.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” said women’s co-captain Olivia Apps. “It’s a really good opportunity for us to showcase women’s rugby, especially in front of a home crowd. We’re looking forward to getting the energy from our fans.”
The men opened the season finishing 10th at the Hong Kong Sevens, then experienced a string of disappointing results before placing 11th at last weekend’s Los Angeles Sevens.
“The boys had a slow start to the season but things have been starting to come together slowly,” said Morra, a Toronto native. “We have a young group of guys. We’re still trying to find our identity.”
Interim coach Sean White has seen improvement in the team’s play.
“We’re looking at really just building a new foundation to our game,” he said. “We’re winning games in a way that we weren’t winning them before.
“We talk about building from the back out. Defence wins in a tournament like this. That’s been our focus over the last month, looking at a different foundation.”
New Zealand, winners of the last two tournaments in Sydney and L.A., lead the standings with 107 points. Canada has 19 points but is within striking distance of 11th place Uruguay, which has 29.
Kenya is 13th with 22 points and Spain 12th with 25.
“The point range is always such a variable,” said White. “You get a quarterfinal here and a quarterfinal there. You look at teams that were in the top five two tournaments ago, (they are) now in the middle of the pack.”
The men’s best finish in Vancouver was a bronze medal in 2020. They finished 10th last year and have been in the top seven three times in the last six years.
The World Series is reducing the number of men’s core teams for the 2024 season from 16 to 12, to equal the number of women’s teams and align with the Olympic competition structure.
The 15th-ranked core team following the 10th round in Toulouse on May 12-14 will be relegated. The teams ranked 12th, 13th and 14th at the end of Toulouse will enter a four-team relegation playoff together with the Challenger Series 2023 winners at the 11th and final round of the Series in London on May 20-21.
The relegation playoff will be a round-robin format with the top two teams meeting in the final. The winner becomes the 12th core team on the 2024 Series, while the other three teams will enter their respective Regional Sevens Championships in order to qualify for the 2024 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
The men will play in Pool D against Australia (sixth with 77 points), Ireland (ninth with 68) and Chile, which has one point from the single tournament it has played.
The Canadian women have 16 points and are ranked 10th after four stops on their tour. The team’s best finish was eighth place in Cape Town, South Africa.
New Zealand, the winner of three of the tournaments, leads the standings with 78 points.
A Canadian team that has featured 14 players making their international debut has struggled at times this year, but head coach Jack Hanratty refuses to use youth as an excuse.
“We feel we’ve underperformed over the last little while,” he said. “We also know that we’re a new, building squad.
“For us it’s complete unity. We want to play with some speed, with a high tempo. We want to start being a bit more knowledgeable about the game. Experience only comes when you’re actually playing so errors will come.”
Co-captain Breanne Nicholas believes Canada has the potential to surprise teams.
“The cohesion is getting there,” she said. “I l believe we’re a top-five team (but) we haven’t shown it consistently.”
The women play in Pool C with the USA (ranked third with 66 points), Ireland (fifth with 52) and Brazil (11th with 11).
The top four men’s and women’s teams at the end of the season will qualify automatically for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
—Jim Morris, The Canadian Press