Rugby·Preview

Canada searching for silver lining at high stakes London 7s

Essentially there are five nations chasing four automatic berths at the 2020 Summer Olympics. One of them is not going to make it and will be forced to go through a nervy qualifying competition after the men's World Rugby Sevens Series in London this weekend.

Men's rugby squad faces challenging path to qualify for 2020 Games

Connor Braid is seen above after scoring a try for Canada at the Singapore Sevens earlier this season. The Canadian men's team has had a tumultuous year and faces a difficult path to qualifying for the 2020 Olympics. (Paul Miller/Getty Images )

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work this one out.

Five into four doesn't go evenly. Never has; never will. But you knew that in primary school.

Apply that equation to the London Sevens. It still doesn't work. That is why there is extra urgency and excitement attached to the penultimate round of the men's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this weekend.

There is little margin for error. Essentially there are five nations chasing four automatic berths at the 2020 Summer Olympics. One of them is not going to make it and will be forced to go through a nervy qualifying competition.

All roads lead to Twickenham. The hallowed turf of English rugby may prove decisive. It could just as easily muddy the waters with regard to those Olympic dreams. No one will be counting any chickens before Sunday night.

As we stand, the USA and Fiji are almost there. New Zealand and South Africa also start from a position of strength, and all four nations are in control of their own destiny. That could all change in London — and they all know it.

England wants in. The host nation begins the London Sevens on the periphery. Coming off a podium finish in Singapore, the English will be in a buoyant mood. With home advantage, they are close enough to force their way into the top four.

South Africa may be vulnerable. The Blitzboks have been playing catch up after a sluggish start to the season but have recently hit form. They notched their first win of the season in Vancouver and grabbed another gold in Singapore with an epic comeback to beat the Fijians.

It's only a matter of time for the Americans. The Eagles' flying start to the Sevens series, appearing in five straight finals and a win on home soil, have almost guaranteed their flights to Tokyo. Nonetheless, they will want to finish the season in style and be seen as genuine Olympic medal contenders.

Canada's season descends further into farce

Team Canada is not invited to this high stakes game.

A season that began with a civil war has descended further into farce. Damian McGrath has paid the price and been replaced as head coach. A man, respected by his players, was fired following Canada's inability to make an impression in Singapore.

The pre-season shenanigans didn't help. Any team in any sport needs a structured preparation for an arduous campaign ahead. The Canadian players were largely denied that basic requirement and their performances have reflected the deficiency.  

The timing of McGrath's departure is curious at best. If Rugby Canada was dissatisfied with his work, it should surely have either pulled the trigger earlier or, better yet, waited until the end of the season.

Canada has its own agenda. Firstly, it must take care of business in London and Paris to ensure its survival as a core member of the HSBC Sevens Series. Then it is straight into Olympic regional qualifying in its bid to reach Japan.

The players don't need distractions. They don't like upheaval in mid-season when they are trying to focus on their job. The individual trust between player and coach can take years to build.

If Rugby Canada had committed to change, then why not leave it until after the Olympic qualifiers.

Henry Paul will pick up the tattered Canadian flag. The former New Zealand and England international has been transferred from the Canadian 15s coaching staff on an interim basis.

He has one job. Inspire the roster he has inherited. Extract one final, rousing push from tired players to put a silver lining on a forgettable season. It's a long shot, but it might just work.

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