July 23rd, 2024

Canadian men face tough challenge at last-chance rugby sevens Olympic qualifier

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on December 15, 2023.

Canada's Ethan Hager runs in for the try against Mexico during men's semifinal rugby action at the Rugby Sevens Paris 2024 Olympic qualification event at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. The Canadian men's rugby sevens team faces a tough field in its final bid to qualify for the Paris Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The Canadian men’s rugby sevens team faces a tough challenge in its final bid to qualify for the Paris Olympics.

South Africa will be favoured to win the 12-team men’s repechage tournament, scheduled for June 21-23 at Stade Louis II in Monaco with the final spot in the 12-team Olympic field on the line.

The Blitzboks won the opening round of the HSBC SVNS season in Dubai earlier this month and currently stand second in the overall standings after two events. The South Africa men finished fifth at the Tokyo Olympics and won bronze at the Rio Games.

Canada is currently ranked ninth in the SVNS standings. Britain, which sits 10th, and Spain, 11th, are the other core teams in the repechage.

Canada has a 6-58-0 record against South Africa in World Series play, losing 35-14 when they met in Dubai. The Canadians also lost 21-14 to Britain and 19-14 to Spain in Dubai.

The Canadian men dropped into the repechage after losing 24-14 to the U.S. in the final of the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens qualifier in Langford, B.C., in August.

The Canadian women booked their ticket to Paris by blanking Mexico 53-0 in the women’s final at the qualifier.

Other teams in the men’s repechage are Brazil, Chile, China, Hong Kong China, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Uganda.

The Monaco venue also hosted final qualification events prior to the Rio and Tokyo Olympics.

The Canadian men missed out on qualification in 2016 when they lost 14-12 to Russia in the quarterfinals of the last-chance tournament. That failure cost Canada coach Liam Middleton his job.

They finished eighth at the Tokyo Games after qualifying with a perfect 6-0-0 record at the Rugby Americas North Sevens in the Cayman Islands in July 2019.

The Canadian women won bronze at the 2016 Games and placed ninth in Tokyo. Both Canadian teams have gone through significant roster change since the last Olympics.

The women’s repechage field this time around features Argentina, China, Czechia, Hong Kong China, Kenya, Jamaica, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Poland, Samoa and Uganda. Czechia is making its repechage debut.

New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia joined host France in the men’s Olympic field by finishing in the top four of last season’s World Series. The six regional qualification tournament winners are Uruguay (South America), Ireland (Europe), the U.S. (North America), Kenya (Africa), Samoa (Oceania) and Japan (Asia).

New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the U.S. qualified for the women’s field as the top four qualifiers on World Series, along with hosts France. They are joined by Canada, Brazil, Britain, South Africa, Fiji and Japan as regional qualification tournament winners.

Fiji’s men won gold in both Rio and Tokyo. New Zealand won the women’s competition in Tokyo after Australia claimed gold in Rio.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2023

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