Canadian rugby sevens veteran Harry Jones looks to wait out the storm

The Canadian Press

It was just over two weeks ago that Harry Jones was playing in front of a Canadian-record rugby crowd of 39,533 on Day 1 of the HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver.

The Canadian rugby sevens men went on win bronze at the two-day tournament that drew 74,560 festive fans over two days at B.C. Place Stadium.

"It seems like months and months ago, with everything going on," said Jones, a veteran of 327 matches on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.

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These days, the Canadian co-captain and his fiancee are steering clear of crowds at their Victoria home. Thanks to COVID-19, the World Series schedule has been wiped clean. The Canadian men have not trained together since the Canada Sevens.

"We were advised to stay at home and isolate as much as we could," said Jones.

There was a rare moment of clarity Tuesday morning when the International Olympic Committee announced that the Tokyo Olympics would be rescheduled "to a date beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021."

Jones calls it the right decision.

"I'm sure there are a lot of relieved athletes out there now, myself included."

The Canadian men failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Games. Having already booked their ticket to Tokyo, they did not want to miss out on the Olympic experience this time around.

In the meantime, Jones does what he can. He took some weights home with him so he can continue to work out. He's trying to keep a routine.

"There's a lot of hours to fill in the day with not a lot going on ... Just trying to keep busy and wait out the storm as well," he said.

Jones is also trying to do some work from home. He and teammate Connor Braid are brokers with William Wright Commercial Real Estate Services, a boutique commercial brokerage that just opened a Victoria branch.

The Canadian men have faced more than a few challenges since falling short in an Olympic last-chance qualifying tournament in June 2016, losing 14-12 to Russia in the quarterfinals in Monaco. Canada had to go the repechage route after losing 21-5 to the U.S. in the NACRA Sevens Cup final.

Coach Liam Middleton was fired after the failed 2016 Olympic qualification. Then the players and Rugby Canada found themselves embroiled in a bitter labour dispute prior to the 2018-19 season. The Canadians stumbled out of the gate and made the Cup quarterfinals just once in the first eight events, leading to the firing of coach Damian McGrath.

"Some of the older guys on the team have been through quite a lot, not only on the field but off the field," said Jones. "I don't think we're the only ones out there that have had to fight through a lot of adversity. Every athlete across the world goes through a lot to try and get to the Olympics."

Players like Jones have long had one eye on the future of the sport. 

"Speaking for just the sevens program, all the boys love what they do and sacrifice a lot of time and put their lives on hold to represent their country. We're lucky to be able to do it. It's an honour. But at the same time nowadays in the professional environment that sevens is, the guys and girls across all teams want to be compensated for the time and effort they put it.

"Within the Canadian structure, it has been tough ... All we've tried to do is create a solid platform for this program to move forward in the future. Not really for guys like me but for the kids coming up that can see the potential of creating a career out of this.

"That's the biggest thing we've been pushing for," he added. "I still hope that we can create that type of environment so that we can see sevens in Canada just continue to grow and help build the game."

Boosted by the Americans' automatic qualification this time out by virtue of their second-place finish last season, Canada had little trouble qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics out of North America this time.

The Canadian men have shown in the past they can beat anyone on their day.

"Without a doubt. I've said it time and time again. I do think this team has an unbelievable amount of potential. It's just putting all the pieces together and I think the team we have right now is a great mix."

The Canadians ran off four straight wins — including a 26-21 victory over Olympic champion Fiji — before losing 19-14 to Australia in a semifinal in Vancouver. They then upset South Africa 26-19 to win bronze. The third-place finish on home soil moved the Canadians into eighth spot in the overall standings.

Jones, a native of West Vancouver who now calls Vancouver Island home, had his own cheering section in the stands complete with giant letters spelling out his name.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2020.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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