Canadian men facing fight to avoid relegation from World Rugby Sevens Series
Facing a fight to avoid relegation, the Canadian men need to deliver on the pitch in the next three events on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, starting next week in Hong Kong.
The Canadians are 14th in the standings after seven events on the 11-stop circuit. They find themselves in a dangerous neighbourhood given the World Series is dropping from 16 teams to 12 next season to equal the number of women’s sides and align with the Olympic competition structure.
After events in Hong Kong, Singapore and Toulouse, the 15th-ranked men's core team 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 winner at the 11th and final round of the Series in London.
The relegation playoff will be a round-robin format with the top two teams meeting in the final and the winner becoming the 12th core team on the 2024 Series. The other three teams will enter their respective regional championships to qualify for the 2024 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
Fate has not been kind to the Canadian men of late.
They just missed out on making the Cup quarterfinals at the Canada Sevens earlier this month in Vancouver, finishing tied with Ireland and Australia at 2-0-1 in Pool D but missing out on point differential.
Australia went on to finish third in the tournament, defeating 20-15 Ireland in the bronze-medal match. That earned the Australians 17 points in the standings while Ireland collected 15.
The Canadians who had beaten Australia 29-12, Chile 35-7 and lost 35-5 to Ireland in pool play, fell to Spain (19-14) and South Africa (31-14) to finish tied for 15th with just one point.
"At Canada Sevens our aim was to build from our performances in L.A. (where Canada finished tied for 11th). At moments we accomplished this, and other times our execution let us down," Canada interim coach Sean White said in a statement.
"We’ve had a very productive training block over the last few weeks that continued our focus on our skill execution under pressure as well as continuing to build the aggression in our defence. The players know the challenges ahead and as a group our sights are set only as far as the next game in front of us.”
The poor finish in Vancouver has produced a tough draw in Hong Kong, which runs March 31 through April 2 at Hong Kong Stadium, with the Canadian men playing in Pool A with No. 2 Argentina, No. 4 Fiji and No. 6 Samoa.
Argentina lifted the Cup in Vancouver, knocking off Fiji in the quarterfinals. Samoa placed ninth.
It's the second stop in Hong Kong for the men this season with the World Series kicking off there in November. The Canadians finished 10th then, losing 33-5 to New Zealand, which went on to record podium finishes in five of the next six events.
On the women's side, Canada coach Jack Hanratty gets Julia Greenshields back from injury for the first time since December. But Hanratty is missing other bodies through injury and 15s commitments ahead of Hong Kong.
Canada, which stands eighth in the overall standings, will compete in Pool A with No. 1 New Zealand, No. 7 Britain and invitational host side Hong Kong in the sixth of seven women's stops on the World Series.
Fancy Bermudez, Renee Gonzalez and Pamphinette Buisa are in Spain with the 15s team and will miss the Hong Kong event. Bianca Farella, Florence Symonds, Charity Williams and Asia Hogan-Rochester are injured.
The Canadian women are coming off a season-best sixth-place finish at the Canada Sevens in Vancouver earlier this month.
“We are happy to get back in action after an incredible occasion at Canada Sevens," Hanratty said in a statement. “Although it was a season-best performance for us, we are eager to challenge at the later stages of the tournament. We had big highs in Vancouver, but consistency is what we are striving for.”
Shalaya Valenzuela and Maddy Grant, who last played in January in Sydney, and Taejah Thompson and Piper Logan, who debuted at the Canada Sevens, are all in the Hong Kong lineup.
Canada opens pool play against Britain before facing Hong Kong and New Zealand.
Canada Men's Roster
Anton Ngongo, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers; Phil Berna, Vancouver, Vancouver Rowing Club; Alex Russell, Chichester, England, McGill University; Josiah Morra, Toronto, Castaway Wanderers/Toronto Saracens; Brennig Prevost, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers; David Richard, Milton, Ont., Mississauga Blues RFC; Matthew Oworu, Calgary, Pacific Pride; Max Stewart, Cape Town, Pacific Pride; Thomas Isherwood, Okotoks, Alta., Foothills Lions RFC; Kal Sager, Peterborough, Ont., Peterborough Pagans/Trent University; Lockie Kratz, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers/NOLA Gold; Elias Hancock, Ottawa, Bytown Blues; Will Percillier, Bordeaux, France, Rugby Club Vannes.
Canada Women's Roster
Olivia De Couvreur, Ottawa, Ottawa Irish; Krissy Scurfield, Canmore, Alta., University of Victoria; Breanne Nicholas, Blenheim, Ont., Kent Havoc RFC; Julia Greenshields, Sarnia, Ont., Sarnia Saints; Piper Logan, Calgary, Calgary Hornets/University of British Columbia; Keyara Wardley, Vulcan, Alta., unattached; Taejah Thompson, Calgary, Calgary Canadian Irish Athletic Club; Alysha Corrigan, Charlottetown, P.E.I. CRFC/Saracens; Nakisa Levale, Abbotsford, B.C., Abbotsford RFC; Olivia Apps, Lindsay, Ont., Lindsay RFC; Shalaya Valenzuela, Abbotsford, B.C., Abbotsford RFC; Maddy Grant, Cornwall, Ont., University of Ottawa; Chloe Daniels, Sutton, Ont., Aurora Barbarians/Queen’s University.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press