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Written By: Adam McQueen
After several weeks of recuperation following the adrenaline-sapping Vancouver Sevens, the Canadian Men’s Sevens Team now prepares to embark on the most testing month of their entire season. The three upcoming major tournaments, played over the next four weeks, may dictate the success of Canada's 2017/2018 campaign.
First, Canada will compete in the prestigious Hong Kong event, the first of the two Asian legs on the HSBC World Sevens Series, with an eye on cracking the top ten in the yearlong standings. In order to do so they will need to knock off Spain, Australia, and a scorching hot Kenyan team that is coming off of a second place finish at the Vancouver Sevens and four straight cup quarter-final appearances. Despite this, leading try scorer Justin Douglas sees some small tweaks that could earn the men in red and white a much needed berth into the final eight of the premier event of the season.
“A big theme for us is consistency. This year we have shown that we can play the series’ best but we have also shown our worst and been at the bottom of the table. It’s the small margins that is getting us, so just trying to stop the silly errors and staying on task mentally will really help.”
Damian MacGrath’s men will then have a quick turnaround as they jet south to Queensland to compete in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. The Canadians' path towards an inaugural medal in their seventh appearance at the Games will be no small feat – once again the Kenyans stand in front of their qualification hopes during the pool stage. Joining Kenya in the proverbial ‘group of death’ will be 2014 silver medalists New Zealand and Zambia.
In their two encounters on the HSBC World Sevens Series this year, Canada have fallen to Kenya 19-14 and 29-15 respectively. However, as is the case with many sevens matches, the results were not necessarily indicative of the performance. Both teams play a strikingly similar style – direct and physical – and both rely on ball retention to manufacture tries. For Canada, it was the smallest of errors that resulted in the Kenyans trotting the ball under their post for five points. Yet, that is the nature of sevens rugby.
Canada will conclude their month-long tour in Singapore, an event which will bring back fond memories. The team will enter the tournament in the unfamiliar role of defending champions as they made history last season in securing their first ever cup win after a pulsating victory over the United States.
Damian MacGrath has named fourteen players to his travelling squad in preparation for the grueling war of attrition that April has presented. Fortunately, Canada has retained the services of Admir Cejvanovic and Connor Braid, two players that have split time between the fifteens and sevens programs. Braid’s return to the sevens team for the Las Vegas and Vancouver stops were immediately felt; the Oak Bay grad has quickly become Canada’s most consistent source of line breaks.
Youngsters Josiah Morra, Luke Bradley, and Jared Douglas will be on standby as injury replacements. Liam Underwood just missed out on being medically cleared from a neck injury suffered earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Jake Thiel and Phil Berna are nursing long-term injuries that may limit their opportunity to appear for the rest of the campaign.
If Canada are to improve upon their slow start to 2018, they must become more clinical. Without the likes of an out and out finisher in the mould of a Seabelo Senatla or Perry Baker, the Canadians rely on methodically breaking down their opposition to score points. The luxury of having one of the best playmakers in world rugby – Nate Hirayama –pulling the strings makes this approach a whole lot more feasible. However, with a greater amount of breakdowns and passes thrown comes the potential for an equally increased amount of errors and turnovers.
Unfortunately, Canada have faltered at the final hurdle of lengthy possessions – something that has dire repercussions in the sevens format.
Although Canada are an experienced team that rely heavily upon their veteran leaders to grind out victories, fresh faces will have to lighten the load of an excruciating schedule. Newcomers, Tevaughn Campbell and Ædelhard’s very own Andrew Coe will be given a baptism of fire. Campbell, headed to just his third HSBC World Sevens Series event, has displayed glimpses of his raw potential during his brief rugby career. Meanwhile, Coe hopes to provide a spark during a run of games that is bound to wear on the players:
“It’s always tough being a rookie on a veteran team but I am confident in my play to make an impact when I get the chance. This month is very gruelling and will take everything we have across all fourteen players to perform consistently. Taking care of our bodies so we are able to compete at our highest level is massive; it is going to be very challenging but we are ready to hit the ground running.”
Last year the Canadians pulled out their best rugby during the back stretch of the season, securing the famous win in Singapore and climbing to eighth in the standings. This April will determine if they can pull off the same heroics.