Published May 18, 2023 1:49 PM ET
The 16 captains pose for photos at Holland Park School on Wednesday, 17 May 2023, before the HSBC London Sevens. Canadian captain Phil Berna is in the back row, fourth from left. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby-Mike Lee)
The Canadian men made their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut in 1999-2000 and this weekend’s season-ending tournament in London marks their 190th on the circuit.
It could also last for some time.
Canada battled for World Series future, embroiled in relegation playoffs with Kenya, Tonga and Uruguay with only one retaining starting team status next season.
That’s because the World Series reduced the number of men’s teams to 12 from 16 next season to align with women’s competition and the Olympic field.
Japan, the team ranked 15th in the standings, were relegated after last weekend’s tournament in Toulouse, France. Uruguay’s number 12. No. 13 Kenya and No. 14 Canada will join Tonga, winners of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, in the round-robin relegation playoffs as part of the season-ending HSBC London 7s.
The winner of the playoffs will become the 12th core team of the 2024 Series, while the other three teams must enter their respective seven regional championships to qualify for the 2024 Challenger Series and return to elite competition.
While the stakes are high, the Canadian team is focused on the direct challenge.
“We’re really not trying to hope to get through this weekend ΓÇª We’ll be counting chips wherever they land, at the weekend,” said Canada’s interim coach Sean White. “As far as we’re concerned, we have three games this weekend to take care of. And if we can handle our business, we’ll have a fourth (playoff final).”
Losing the World Series would be catastrophic, greatly increasing the difficulty of qualifying for the Olympics. It will also make squad sevens a less desirable landing spot for athletes at a time when Rugby Canada has facilitated players moving between games seven and 15 to increase their depth and provide more game opportunities.
A plus for the Canadian men is that they arrive at Twickenham in style having finished fourth best season in Toulouse.
“I don’t think the attitude or preparation has changed much from where we took the lead to Toulouse,” said White. “We want to focus on what we can control. I think the benefit of getting that payoff, being fourth, is we’re pretty sure if we can do that again, we’ll get a very similar result.”
Canada’s previous best of the season was 10th in the opening event in Hong Kong. They then finished 11th, 14th (five times) and drew 15th (twice) and came to London with an 18–39 season record.
Canadians have been rebuilding after the mass exodus following the Tokyo Olympics. And the season started in turmoil with coach Henry Paul resigning at the end of November after the season opener. White, a former Canadian international of seven and 15 years, took over.
Canada opens against Kenya and Uruguay on Saturday before facing Tonga on Sunday. The top two teams in the playoffs will then meet at the famous venue as scheduled – between the cup final and the bronze medal game.
White will be without Elias Hancock, who has had to return home after needing hospital treatment for a severe cut to his thumb. Brennig Prevost and Elias Ergas have been brought in as replacements
Canada is 29-24-1 all-time against Kenya, including 3-4-0 this season. Kenya, led by former Canada coach Damian McGrath, lost 33-7 to Canada in Toulouse.
Canada has won all 10 of their previous meetings with Uruguay, including a 26-0 win at Toulouse. But Uruguay had a few highlights in their first season as a starting team in the World Series, qualifying for the quarter-finals of the cup twice.
Canada has a career lead of 9-6-0 over Tonga but lost 35-14 the only time they have met earlier this season, in Sydney in January.
The Canadian men’s record in this Series is 434-579-18.
They have only ever won one tournament on the circuit, beating the US 26-19 in 2017 to lift the cup in Singapore. Their first cup final appearance was a loss to New Zealand in the 2014 Glasgow Sevens.
Kenya has participated in 173 tournaments, compared to 44 for Tonga and 33 for Uruguay.
Uruguay goes to Toulouse in 11th place with a narrow one-point advantage over Spain. But Spain emerged from France with seven points, two more than South America, to qualify from the relegation playoff.
Uruguay ended in 12th place with 54 points, ahead of Kenya (40), Canada (39) and Japan (18).
There is other business to be done in London, although New Zealand have captured the World Series title and 2nd-ranked Argentina and 4th-ranked Fiji have joined the All Blacks in qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics as they have guaranteed themselves top spot. -four finishes on the season.
With Olympic hosts France in third place in the standings, the battle for the final Olympic spot will automatically drop to No. 5 Australia (125 points), No. 6 Samoa (116) and No. 7 South Africa (116).
New Zealand have won five of the last six tournaments, with Argentina halting that run by lifting the cup in Vancouver in March. Australia, Samoa and South Africa also won this season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 18, 2023.
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