June 21st, 2024

Canada men face another relegation fight to preserve core status on HSBC SVNS circuit

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on May 30, 2024.

Canada rugby captains Phil Berna and Olivia Apps are shown in front of the Royal Palace of Madrid on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, ahead of the HSBC SVNS Grand Final May 31-June 2. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby-Mike Lee **MANDATORY CREDIT**

While Canada’s women battle for silverware this weekend in the HSBC SVNS season finale in Madrid, the men are fighting for survival on World Rugby’s sevens circuit.

For the second year in a row, the Canadian men find themselves in a relegation battle.

Canada survived a four-team playoff last year, defeating Kenya 12-7 in London in the final on a last-minute Alex Russell try to preserve its status as a core team on World Rugby’s sevens series.

The 2023 relegation fight was a product of the sevens circuit reducing the number of men’s teams to 12 from 16 to align with the women’s competition and the Olympic field.

Now promotion/relegation is an annual feature with the bottom four teams from the slimmed-down, rebranded HSBC SVNS and the top four teams from World Rugby’s second-tier Challenger Series facing off to decide four berths in next season’s elite division.

The top eight men’s and women’s sides, meanwhile, meet in a “winner-take-all” grand final in Madrid in the eighth and final stop of the season.

The 12th-place Canadian men have been headed for the relegation playoff for some time. They have lost 25 straight games with their last win coming Dec. 10 in Cape Town – a 33-17 victory over France to finish seventh on the second stop of the campaign.

Canada placed last on the other six stops, compiling a dismal 3-32-0 over seven events with only a few bright spots.

The Canadians defeated New Zealand 19-7 in Cape Town and pushed the All Blacks to the limit May 3 in Singapore before falling 21-17 in extra time.

“It’s been a challenging year,” said Canada coach Sean White, a former standout player. “It has been difficult on the players.”

They have embraced a “‘Spartan mentality,’ taking a page from the film ‘300,’” he added.

“We’re a small group of “¦ passionate fighters taking on the world.”

But after criss-crossing the globe, the Canadian men have just 12 points from seven events – 94 points less than Series leader Argentina.

“We’ve talked about this moment throughout the year,” said White. “We spoke about it hopefully early in the year being in the top eight but as the year progressed and things went along, we knew we’d be in the bottom four fighting relegation. So I guess the conversation changed in a way, but it’s nothing we’ve hid from. We’re taking it on head on.”

Canada has been drawn in Qualifier Pool A with Uruguay, Germany and the U.S. (which finished ninth in the World Series). The other group has Chile, Kenya, No. 10 Spain and No. 11 Samoa.

Uruguay finished atop the Challenger Series, ahead of Kenya, Chile and Germany.

The Canadians will play Uruguay and Germany on Friday and complete pool play against the U.S. on Saturday. The teams will then cross over Sunday with A1 versus B4, 2A versus 3B, 3A versus 2B and 4A versus 1B.

Canada has not played the U.S. since a 21-14 loss in August in the final of the Rugby Americas North Sevens in Langford, B.C., with an Olympic berth on the line.

The winners of the four crossover matches earn core status for next season. Should Canada lose that final test, it would drop down to the second-tier Challenger Series.

Injuries have not helped the Canadian cause.

“The silver lining is we’ve had an opportunity to develop players,” said White.

And on the plus side, Cooper Coats, Jack Carson, Matthew Percillier and Cody Nhanala are back in the lineup in Madrid.

The men’s grand final in Madrid features No. 1 Argentina, No. 2 Ireland, No. 3 New Zealand, No. 4 Australia, No. 5 Fiji, No. 6 France, No. 7 South Africa and No. 8 Britain.

The fifth-ranked Canadian women join No. 1 New Zealand, No. 2 Australia, No. 3 France, No. 4 U.S. No. 7 Ireland and No. 8 Britain in competing for the season’s final prize.

The Canadian women have been drawn in Pool A with New Zealand, Britain and the U.S.

No. 9 Japan, No. 10 Brazil, No. 11 South Africa and No. 12 Spain are joined in the women’s relegation playoff by China, Argentina, Belgium and Poland from the Challenger Series.

Madrid marks the final tournament for the Canadian women before the Paris Olympics in July. After Madrid, the Canadian men focus on a last-ditch Olympic qualification tournament in Monaco in late June.

Canada Rugby Sevens Rosters

Women

Charity Williams, Toronto, Markham Irish; Florence Symonds, Hong Kong, UBC; Madison Grant, Cornwall, Ont., Cornwall Claymores; Fancy Bermudez, Edmonton, Westshore RFC; Piper Logan, Calgary, UBC; Keyara Wardley, Vulcan, Alta., unaffiliated; Alysha Corrigan, Charlottetown, P.E.I., CRFC; Olivia Apps, Lindsay, Ont., Lindsay RFC; Shalaya Valenzuela, Abbotsford, B.C., Abbotsford RFC; Asia Hogan-Rochester, Toronto, Westshore RFC; Caroline Crossley, Victoria; Castaway Wanderers; Taylor Perry, Oakville, Ont., Oakville Crusaders; Chloe Daniels, Sutton, Ont., Queen’s University.

Men

Phil Berna, Vancouver, Vancouver Rowing Club; Josiah Morra, Toronto, Toronto Saracens; Cooper Coats, Halifax, Halifax Tars; David Richard, Milton, Ont., Mississauga Blues RFC; Matthew Oworu, Calgary, Pacific Pride; Thomas Isherwood, Okotoks, Alta, Foothills Lions RFC; Liam Bowman, Oakville, Ont., Oakville Crusaders; Kal Sager, Peterborough, Ont., Trent University; Cody Nhanala, Ottawa, Pacific Pride; Elias Hancock, Ottawa, University of Ottawa; Noah Flesch, Cobourg, Ont., Pacific Pride; Matt Percillier, Victoria, UBC; Jack Carson, Victoria, UBC.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024

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