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Young Canadian side gets a chance to show off their skills at the Vancouver Rugby Sevens event

Young Canadian side gets a chance to show off their skills at the Vancouver Rugby Sevens event

After a river of retirements and with other veterans taking time off, Canadian coach Henry Paul is posing with a young team at this weekend’s HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver.

The tournament marks the first HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event since the circuit stopped due to the pandemic following the Vancouver tournament in March 2020, when Canada finished third.

“It’s a new group, so there’s some excitement there. And some horror,” said Paul, a former seven-star with England. “But I can not wait.”

The participating teams go to Edmonton next to play 25-26. September. The two Canadian events, which will also feature a quadruple competition for women, serve as a shortened season for 2021.

World Rugby says there will be no relegation from the 2021 series and the results do not count towards seedings for future events.

Canadian co-captain Nate Hirayama, Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor have all retired in the wake of the Tokyo Games, where the men finished eighth in their Olympic debut.

Paul’s list in Vancouver includes only three members of the Olympic squad – Phil Berna, Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe – although Josiah Morra has also played in the World Series. Berna will be captain on the side with Thiel as vice-captain.

Co-captain Harry Jones, Mike Fuailefau, Lucas Hammond, Patrick Kay, Matt Mullins and Theo Sauder are members of the Olympic list sitting out at the Vancouver event.

“I hope, fingers crossed, that we do not lose too many more,” Paul said. “But right now we said we would give them until October.”

“We needed to give them some time to really regroup,” he added. “And it’s an exciting time for these young guys that we’ve named in this team.”

The 2022 World Series season starts with back-to-back combined events in Dubai. The first, 26-27. November, will be held behind closed doors, while the other, 3-4. December, will see fans present at Sevens Stadium.

The full 2022 schedule will be announced later with “alternative hosting options” being considered to replace events in Australia and New Zealand in January.

Only seven of the men’s teams participate in Vancouver with New Zealand. Fiji, Australia, Argentina, Japan, France and Samoa among the missing.

The Canadian men are drawn in Pool C with the United States, Chile and Germany.

Pool A features South Africa, Kenya, Spain and Mexico. Pool B consists of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong and Jamaica

Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Jamaica and Mexico are invited teams. The pages of Mexican men and women were late additions after France withdrew due to travel issues.

Many of the young Canadian teams trained with the Olympic team in the run-up to Tokyo.

“They deserve their place,” Paul said. “They’ve been training for nine weeks. And I’m excited to see who gets up, take the ball, grab it by the neck and dig … we don’t give the jersey away cheaply.”

Paul points to Jack Carson, Alex Russell, Matt Oworu, Nick Allen and Matt Percillier among the Canadian youth to watch.

Paul expects many of the teams to showcase young talent at the Canadian events.

“It’s exciting for world rugby,” Paul said. “Some stars are coming up.”

With limited participation due to COVID-19 and pandemic-related travel restrictions, an accompanying women’s competition will include only four teams: Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Mexico.

The women’s “Fast Four” competition format will see the teams play against each other before the two best decide the gold and the other two meet for the third. Former Canadian captain Kelly Russell will train women’s seven-man squad at the Canadian events.

Vancouver’s presence is limited to 50 percent of BC Place Stadium’s lower bowl capacity, making approximately 13,500 tickets available. Last year, a crowd of 39,533 — the largest single-day crowd in Canadian rugby history — saw Canadian men reach the podium.

The audience will be larger outdoors at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. Rugby Canada makes half of the 32,000 capacity lower bowl available and can push it to 60 percent if demand justifies it.

World Rugby had said that six men’s rounds and four women’s rounds were planned in the last four months of 2021. But previously announced stops in 2021 in Singapore (October 29-30) and Cape Town (December 10-12) will not Take place. And Sevens in Hong Kong, which was scheduled for 5-7. November, was canceled earlier.

Next year, there will also be rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (July 29-31) and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town (September 9-11) after the World Series.

Last season, the men got six out of 10 scheduled tournaments and the women five out of eight before the schedule stalled. A women’s event in Langford, BC, scheduled for early May last year, was one of the tournaments canceled.

CANADA ROSTERS

Men

Phil Berna (capt.), Vancouver, Vancouver Rowing Club; Jake Thiel (Vice Capt.), Abbotsford, BC, Abbotsford RFC; Matt Oworu, Calgary, Pacific Pride; Nicholas Allen, Vancouver, UBC Thunderbirds; Alex Russell, Chichester, England, McGill University; Ciaran Breen, Victoria, Cowichan RFC; Jack Carson, Victoria, UBC Thunderbirds; Matthew Percillier, Victoria, UBC Thunderbirds; Brennig Prevost, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers; Josiah Morra, Toronto, Toronto Saracens; Andrew Coe, Markham, Ont., Markham Irish RFC; Elias Ergas, Vancouver, UBC Thunderbirds; Anton Ngongo, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers.

Women

Olivia Apps, Lindsay, Ont., Lindsay RFC; Fancy Bermudez-Chavez, Edmonton, Nor’Wester Athletic Association; Emma Chown, Barrie, Ont., Aurora Barbarians; Alysha Corrigan, Charlottetown, CRFC / Saracens; Chloe Daniels, Sutton, Ont .; RC Academy / Queen’s University; Olivia De Couvreur, Ottawa, Ottawa Irish; Renee Gonzalez, Toronto, UVIC; Asia Hogan-Rochester, Toronto, unrelated; Breanne Nicholas, Blenheim, Ont., London St. Georges; Arielle Normandin-Leclerc, Montreal, Town of Mount Royal Rugby; Ella O’Regan, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers / UVIC; Temitope Ogunjimi, Calgary, Calgary Hornets RFC; Sabrina Poulin, Saint-George de Beauce, Que., Town of Mount Royal Rugby.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 16, 2021.

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