Canada looks to build respect at Vancouver 7s, but Americans ready to crash the party
Canadian men coming off season-worst result, but could be bolstered by home crowd
I find myself both in awe and in fear.
The Canada Sevens should stimulate feelings of pride and excitement. Proud that a world class event is returning to Vancouver, and eager to get a first hand view of some of the best players on the planet. However, there are overriding emotions at play.
I am in awe of the Americans. I also confess to a little envy. Team USA is due huge credit following their victory in Las Vegas last weekend. After a nervy start they rallied to put on a rugby clinic and win their own leg of the World Sevens series for the second year running.
I fear for the Canadians. I am certain they arrived in Vegas determined to show some improvement, advance from the pool stages and build confidence towards Vancouver. Canada departed the desert, reflecting on their worst finish of the season.
It's not good enough to be a good host. The Canada Sevens, now in its fourth year, has quickly established itself as one of the best-organized and best-attended stops on tour. Millions of dollars will flow into the local economy over the weekend as fans from all over the world flock to the west coast.
Fijians, South Africans, Australians, Brits and, yes, Americans are all coming to a Canadian party the host cannot win. No chance. Canada is simply not good enough to be the star of its own show. There are too many obstacles in the way.
WATCH | Previewing the Vancouver Sevens clash:
Canada's form is only marginally north of downright depressing. Only once in five attempts this season have the Canadians advanced to the Cup quarter-finals. Any hope of further progress in New Zealand was quickly snuffed out by Fiji who went onto to claim the gold medal in Hamilton.
Damian McGrath's team at least showed some fight in Las Vegas. There were no short order hammerings. Captain Nathan Hirayama was the leading points scorer and nobody worked harder than Connor Braid who led the performance tracker standings. Canada wasn't bad at the Las Vegas Sevens, but there are no points for near misses.
WATCH | Connor Braid is an impact player:
In stark contrast, the Americans are a team finally ready to challenge the establishment. They can now compete with — and beat — the best. New Zealand, South Africa and Fiji are masters of sevens rugby. Team USA has forced its way into the conversation, no longer content to merely make up the numbers.
So what has the U.S. got that Canada doesn't? In a word: Respect. Canada has a chance to build some in Vancouver. It is a gilt-edged opportunity to gather momentum, engage Canadian fans, and feel the exhilaration of wearing the Maple Leaf jersey on home soil.
Moreover, the Americans are a group of athletes who have found their niche.
Carlin Isles, for example, was and is a very good sprinter. But not fast enough. He had a brief try out with the NFL but he couldn't crack it with the Detroit Lions. However, he learned to catch a ball and use his speed. He has combined his talents to become an exceptional rugby sevens player.
Madison Hughes was born and raised in England – the cradle of rugby itself. He could have played professionally in Europe but it never happened. He used his American passport to embrace a different form of the game. Hughes is a natural born leader, and as captain of Team USA has never looked back.
Canada's track record in Vancouver is not impressive; its prospects this weekend are not encouraging. After another poor showing in Vegas the Canadians are in tough again – challenging pool games against Samoa, Fiji and Kenya await.
At least the Canadians can rely on home support. The fans want to see Team Canada step up in Vancouver and demonstrate they can be hard to beat. This is Canada's Sevens so play hard, play fair, and make sure you leave your mark.