Vancouver gears up for Canadian men's rugby 7s weekend
Team Canada looking to regain form that saw it win first-ever 7s tour event last year
It's a two-day, all-day sporting spectacle unfolding amid a costumed cocktail party in the stands, and all tied together by a top-level international rugby tournament.
The Canada Sevens is back at BC Place Stadium this weekend.
- WATCH LIVE: World Rugby 7s Series in Vancouver, Saturday at 12:30 pm ET
- Canada falls to France in Challenge Trophy final in Vegas
- SCHEDULE: Watch rugby sevens live on CBC Sports
"It's not your typical sporting event," said Jamie Levchuk, the event's managing director. "Sevens is more than the action on the field."
Sevens, the faster cousin of traditional 15-a-side rugby union, features fast-paced, wide-open play between two teams of seven players each competing over two seven-minute halves.
The Vancouver event is the sixth stop on a 10-country tour, and will see 45 games played over two days in a festival of rugby that will unfold in front of more than 70 thousand fans, many indulging in the tradition of fancy dress costume.
On the pitch, Team Canada will enjoy home support, and hope to use the event as stepping stone towards future international success, in particular Olympic aspirations that were left unfulfilled after failing to qualify for Rio 2016.
"It's a great thing to play at home. It brings with it some pressures of expectation but for Canadian rugby it's a huge deal," said Canadian coach Damian McGrath.
"The potential in Canada is huge and the Sevens is a big part of helping it grow."
The home team will face a stern test on Saturday, and will have to win two of its three Pool A group games to advance to second round play on Sunday.
The Canadians are drawn against series newcomer Uruguay, traditional rugby powerhouse Australia and a United States team looking to build on winning its home tour stop in Las Vegas last weekend.
"We'll have to be turned on every single game to put on a show for the home crowd," said Canadian captain Harry Jones.
Jones, who grew up on Vancouver's North Shore, is one of the 10 B.C. players on the team's 13-man roster.
This is a hometown tournament," he said. Even just being on home soil in Canada is something everyone gets very excited for."
Team coach Damian McGrath says there's signs for optimism, despite the team entering its home home tournament mired in a slump, with 10th, 11th and 13th place finishes in their last three tour stops.
"We're actually playing better rugby this year than we did last year when we had more success."
There's also been signs of promise: a series win at the Singapore Sevens last year and a 4th place finish in the South Africa Sevens earlier this season.
"We snuck under the radar last year and caught teams by surprise. This year, we're seen as contenders," he said.
Trying for Tokyo
McGrath took over in 2016 at a low point for program. The men's team finished a disappointing 13th overall in the 2015/16 Sevens Series and failed to qualify for the sport's Olympic debut at the 2016 Olympics, costing the team its Own the Podium funding.
"Losing that funding hinders our chance to spend time with quality young players and bring them through so that in several years time they're the stars here in Vancouver at the Sevens."
Impressing at events like Vancouver can help the team regain that funding, and set it up for competitions to come, including the Commonwealth Games next month and Olympic qualifying which begins next season.
"I think we're in pole position to qualify," said McGrath.
"I'm ultra confident that we'll be there and not only will we be there we'll be medal contenders."
Vancouver is also already contending to keep a Sevens Series event in Canada.
Last month, organizers bid to renew Vancouver's role as host for another four years. If successful, it will keep the Sevens event at BC Place until 2023.
🥇 Destination Sevens: We're now just 4 days away from the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canada7s?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Canada7s</a> in Vancouver. What a city and what a tournament! Who's excited? <a href="https://t.co/uY9hCbcK3p">pic.twitter.com/uY9hCbcK3p</a>—@WorldRugby7s
"Ever since the 2010 Olympics this city has shown itself to be a fan of international sport," said Levchuk.
He expect about 20 bids to have been submitted for the 10 tour stops. World Rugby is expected to announce its decision in June.
"We will be back for sure in 2019 and we hope for four more years after that."