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Canada unveils men’s, women’s rosters for this week’s Olympic rugby sevens qualifier

Phil Berna and Olivia Apps will captain the Canadian sides looking to secure Olympic qualification at the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens this weekend in Langford, B.C.

The two-day qualifying tournament features seven men’s and five women’s rugby sevens teams with one Olympic berth for next year in Paris on the line for each. The second- and third-place sides will have one last crack at Olympic qualification via a world repechage tournament.

The men’s competition in Langford is divided into two pools, with Canada grouped with Barbados, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The other group features the U.S., Mexico and Bermuda.

Canada will open versus St. Vincent and the Grenadines before playing Barbados and Jamaica on Saturday with the top two in each pool crossing over to meet in Sunday’s semifinals.

The women’s field has just one pool with Canada opening versus Mexico on Saturday before facing St. Lucia and Jamaica on Saturday. The Canadians will then wrap up pool play Sunday against St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the top two teams meeting in the final.

The Canadian women’s road to Paris is eased by the fact the Americans have already qualified as one of the top four teams in the 2023 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series season standings.

New Zealand, Australia, the U.S. and Ireland concluded atop the women’s table, with Ireland taking the place of No. 4 France, which has automatic qualification in the 12-country Paris field as Olympic host.

New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia secured automatic qualification for the men, with the fifth-place Australians benefitting from France finishing fourth.

The Canadian women finished ninth in the overall season standings while the men placed 14th.

The Langford tournament is one of six regional Olympic qualifiers. Uruguay and Ireland have already won their men’s regional events, while Brazil and Britain have won their way to Paris via their regional women’s competitions.

Berna is joined on the Canadian men’s roster by Cooper Coats and Josiah Morra, with all three having helped Canada qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the same tournament in July 2019 when it was held in the Cayman Islands. The Canadian men blanked Jamaica 40-5 to complete a 6-0-0 run at the eight-country competition that saw it outscore the opposition 293-15.

Canada looks for more of the same at Starlight Stadium in Langford.

“I’m continually impressed by our group,” Canada interim men’s head coach Sean White said in a statement Monday. “Their effort level, attention to detail, and consistent willingness to make the small adjustments in training allow them to grow as a collective.

“We’ve had this date circled on our calendar for over a year now. To host it in front of our home crowd, family and friends is going to be special. We’re ready to take the challenge head-on.”

The Canadian women, who collected bronze in 2016 in Rio, qualified for Tokyo by finishing third overall in the season standings.

The Canadian men and women concluded eighth and ninth, respectively, in Tokyo, while the American men and women each finished sixth.

The Canadian women’s roster for Langford was chosen after a two-week competition on Vancouver Island featuring Canada, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong.

The squad features seven players who were part of Canada’s 15s team at the recent Pacific Four Series in Ottawa — Apps, Florence Symonds, Fancy Bermudez, Alysha Corrigan, Maddy Grant, vice-captain Justine Pelletier and captain Sophie de Goede.

It will mark the first international sevens tournament for Pelletier and the second for de Goede. Asia Hogan Rochester returns to action, having missed the majority of the 2023 sevens season due to injury.

Apps, Breanne Nicholas and Julia Greenshields represented Canada at the Tokyo Olympics.

“This has been a date on our minds and marked in our calendars for months,” Canada women’s head coach Jack Hanratty said in a statement. “We have had a brilliant, competitive few weeks. Although we will have 12 players take the field, we had 40 players between the Maple Leaf academy and the senior squad in our environment during this period whose work and commitment has been unquestioned.

“We pride ourselves in being an Olympic program and Paris is where we want to be next summer. Our goal is to punch our ticket there at Starlight Stadium.”

With the men’s sevens series being reduced to 12 from 16 countries next season to align with the women’s and Olympic fields, the Canadian men had to survive a four-team relegation playoff in May in London to retain their place on the rebranded HSBC SVNS circuit.

The men missed out on the 2016 games when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut. They lost 21-5 to the U.S. in the regional qualifying final in Cary, N.C., and then were defeated 14-12 loss by Russia in the quarterfinals of a repechage tournament in Monaco.

Steve Carr

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