The party is planned, but the Canadians mean business.
Canada’s women’s and men’s rugby sevens teams aim to turn around their respective seasons when the HSBC Canada Sevens event kicks off in Vancouver at BC Place on Friday.
“Sevens is a party, and BC Place — having been there — is a party,” women’s head coach Jack Hanratty said in a recent interview with CBC Sports. “We feel we’ve arranged a good party. It’s [about] rugby first and foremost — the biggest thing that I’m excited about is putting on performances that the Canadian rugby public [is] proud of.
The next stop on the World Rugby Sevens Series — which takes place March 3-5 — will mark the eighth time the tournament has been staged in Vancouver, but the first time a full slate of 12 women’s teams compete alongside the men.
“We’re really happy that the women can partake in it this year,” men’s interim head coach Sean White said.
“It always seemed a little strange operating two different tournaments … to get them together now and to really put Canadian rugby on the front-burner is really exciting.”
Watch live coverage of the men’s and women’s tournaments beginning on Friday at 12:05 p.m. ET on cbcsports.ca, CBC Gem and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android.
Canadian women 10th with 3 events to go
After four out of seven events this season, the Canadian women sit 10th in the overall standings with 16 points. In Cape Town, South Africa they achieved their best result with an eighth-place finish — the team’s only quarter-final appearance in 2022-23.
New Zealand, winner of the last three tournaments, sits atop the standings with 78 points.
This season’s women’s and men’s World Series offers nations their first opportunity at Paris 2024 Olympic qualification for teams finishing in the top four, excluding host France.
Women’s co-captain Olivia Apps said her team’s primary focus was earning a berth to the next Summer Games.
“Our goal for the year was definitely to qualify for the Olympics and finish in that top four [or] top five area in the World Series,” Apps told CBC Sports. “That goal right now does seem a bit far for us.
“A lot of us get our energy from playing in front of our friends and family, and playing in front of such a great crowd as it is in Vancouver, so I know that everybody is really stoked.”
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Women to feed off ‘insane’ Vancouver crowd
Former Canadian women’s team captain Ghislaine Landry, who was honoured at Langford Sevens last year after retiring in 2021, is looking forward to seeing the team compete on one of rugby’s biggest stages.
“The Vancouver crowd is absolutely insane,” Landry told CBC Sports. “It’s become one of the favourite [stops] on the series for a lot of the players because of that, so to have the women play in front of all those fans is going to be an incredible experience.”
Landry believes the tournament could also provide the Canadian women a valuable lesson as focus could potentially shift to the alternative regional qualifiers for the Paris Games.
“They’ve obviously not had the first half of the season that we were hoping for or that they maybe expected to have but it’s still a young team,” Landry said. “Now we start looking at the regional qualifier and it’s the experience that they’re going to get in these final tournaments of the season that is going to have a big impact on that and building into next season.”
The women’s team placed a season-best fifth at the home event and finished seventh overall in last year’s series.
Canadian men battling to avoid relegation
As the Canadian women look to solidify their spot in the top half of the table, the Canadian men face the threat of relegation.
Canada’s men currently sit in 14th place, securing 19 points so far this campaign.
The World Series is reducing the number of men’s core teams from 16 to 12 for the 2024 season in effort to equal the number of women’s teams and align with the Olympic competition format.
New Zealand, with two victories, leads the series this season with 107 points. The 15th-ranked core team following the 10th round in Toulouse, France on May 12-14 will be relegated.
Teams ranked 12th, 13th and 14th at the end of the Toulouse stop will enter a four-team relegation playoff together with the Challenger Series 2023 winners at the final round of the Series in London on May 20-21.
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“It’s a reality [and] adds a bit of spice to the season,” men’s captain Phil Berna told CBC Sports. “[We’re] thinking about it constantly, but it’s a hell of a motivator.”
The Canadian men finished 10th in Vancouver last year and ended the season 14th overall in the standings.
“If I have to beg people to come and fill the seats and make a bunch of noise, I will,” Berna said. “There’s nothing like running onto the field in a sea of red with the whole crowd of family and friends cheering.
“A big finish in Vancouver is huge for our season. It’s a lot of meaningful points on the line, so we need all the help we can get.”
Inspiring the next generation
The men snapped an 8-game losing streak last weekend in Los Angeles with a win over Uruguay and finished the event tied for 11th.
White, who has been leading the squad after Henry Paul stepped down as head coach after three years in November, emphasized that “managing ball possession” is key to the men’s success.
“I think at times our team … does tend to turnover the ball a little bit too much,” White said. “We’re looking to control the ball a little more. You control the ball, you control the game.
White also believes the men have an opportunity to influence the next generation of Canadian rugby at Vancouver Sevens.
“I think the very beautiful part of Vancouver Sevens is it’s on TV across the country and you can really look to inspire the next wave of Canadian rugby players.”
Hanratty is equally excited at the prospect of the impending party on home soil.
“With sevens you go around the world and it’s at different time zones, so [some] people [are only] going to get to see results,” he told CBC Sports.
“Now we get to do it front and centre and we get to show exactly what we’re working on and exactly the [team] we want to be known as.”