Canadian stop on men's rugby 7s series offers crucial experience for young hosts
Teams from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia return to Canada after sitting out last season
Vancouver will serve as the world's Rugby Sevens capital for the weekend.
The HSBC World Men's Rugby Seven Series lands in B.C. for 45 matches on Saturday and Sunday, and the Canadian team will aim to add some much-needed game-time experience after a COVID-19 compromised 2021 season.
The event, originally scheduled for late February but postponed due to health and safety concerns, will feature 16 of the best men's rugby sevens men's teams in the world. That includes Tokyo 2020 gold medallists Fiji, silver medallists New Zealand, and Australia, all top nations in the sport who have sat out the past season out due to the pandemic.
In the previous weekend of Rugby Sevens Series action, held in Singapore on April 9-10, the Canadian squad lost to South Africa, the U.S. and Kenya in the group stage before falling to France and England in placement games.
For Canada's head coach Henry Paul, the homecoming weekend is more than a chance to do better. It's also a very-much appreciated opportunity to play in front of home fans.
WATCH | Rugby 7s returns to BC Place:
"The opportunity to compete against the world's best teams in front of a passionate Canadian crowd is a thrilling prospect for this group of players," Paul said.
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Canada's team finished in sixth place in the last time they played in Vancouver in September 2021. An event in Edmonton that following weekend, when Canada finished fourth, served as the only other tournament in the 2021 season. South Africa claimed both titles.
Back then, health and safety restrictions limited the venue capacity in Vancouver.
Canada's Noah Bain, Theo Sauder and Josiah Morra have been sidelined for this weekend's tournament due to injury or illness. Vancouver's Phil Berna will serve as the Canadian captain in his hometown.
The Canadian squad got their best result of the season in Malaga, Spain, in January, when they finished sixth. Canada shows up in 14th place in the standings with 24 points.
South Africa leads the series with 98 points, having won the first four tournaments of the season. But that dominance would go no further. In the fifth round, held in Singapore, both Fiji and New Zealand made their 2022 debuts and went all the way to the final, when Fiji took a 28-17 win.
'There's no fitness like game fitness'
"Canada has a lot of new players coming on," Canadian rugby union player Andrea Burk told CBC Sports. "Phil Berna, who's captaining the squad, got double digits, like 30 events, under his belt. And then the rest of the players are all sitting at four events, five events... They're a very, very young squad."
The key to keep improving and getting stronger is simple, according to Burk. Playing more games.
"There's a saying in rugby that there's no fitness like game fitness. So when Canada comes up against the heavyweights ... I think we can expect some really exciting things."
All games will be available via stream for free on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and the CBC Gem streaming service.
Action begins on Saturday at 11:50 a.m. ET and Canada will take on all Group C adversaries on the first day, facing No. 2-ranked Australia at 2:37 p.m. ET., top-ranked South Africa at 5:26 p.m. ET, and No. 9 Spain at 9:05 p.m. ET.
Group A features Fiji, USA, Kenya and England, while New Zealand, Samoa, Japan and Wales are on Group B. Group D has Ireland, Argentina, France and Scotland.
Canadian roster for Vancouver
- D'Shawn Bowen — Toronto
- Jake Thiel — Abbotsford, B.C.
- Nick Allen — North Vancouver, B.C.
- Phil Berna — Vancouver
- Alex Russell — Chichester, England
- Anton Ngongo — Victoria
- Brock Webster — Uxbridge, Ont.
- Cooper Coats — Halifax
- Brennig Prevost — Victoria
- Lachlan Kratz — Victoria
- Elias Ergas — Vancouver
- David Richard — Milton, Ont.
- Matthew Oworu — Calgary
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