After a series of retirements and with other veterans on leave, Canadian coach Henry Paul will field 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 tour was shut down due to the pandemic after the Vancouver tournament in March 2020, when Canada finished third.
“It’s a new group so there’s some excitement there. And some apprehension, ”said Paul, a former Sevens star with England. “But I can’t wait.”
Participating teams will then travel to Edmonton to play on September 25-26. The two Canadian events, which will also feature a four-team women’s competition, will serve as a truncated 2021 season.
World Rugby says there will be no relegation from the 2021 Series and the results will not count as seeds for future events.
Canadian co-captain Nate Hirayama, Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor all retired following the Tokyo Games, where the men finished eighth on their Olympic debut.
Paul’s roster in Vancouver only includes three members of that Olympic team – Phil Berna, Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe – although Josiah Morra has also played in the World Series. Berna will be the team captain 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 roster absent from the Vancouver event.
“I hope, fingers crossed, we don’t lose too many more,” said Paul. “But for now, we’ve said we’ll give them out until October.
“We had to give them time to really regroup,” he added. “And it’s an exciting time for these young guys that we’ve named to this team.”
The 2022 World Series season will kick off with back-to-back combo events in Dubai. The first, from November 26 to 27, will be held behind closed doors while the second, from December 3 to 4, will see fans in attendance at Sevens Stadium.
The full 2022 schedule will be announced later, with “alternative host options” being considered to replace events in Australia and New Zealand in January.
Only seven of the men’s base teams compete in Vancouver with New Zealand. Fiji, Australia, Argentina, Japan, France and Samoa are among the missing.
The Canadian men were drawn in Pool C with the United States, Chile and Germany.
Pool A includes South Africa, Kenya, Spain and Mexico. Pool B is made up of Great Britain, Ireland, Hong Kong and Jamaica
Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Jamaica and Mexico are guest teams. The Mexican men’s and women’s teams were added late after France pulled out due to travel issues.
Many young Canadians trained with the Olympic team before Tokyo.
“They deserve their place,” said Paul. “They have been training for nine weeks. And I can’t wait to see who will get up, grab the ball, grab it by the neck and dig… we don’t give away the jersey on the cheap.
Paul names Jack Carson, Alex Russell, Matt Oworu, Nick Allen and Matt Percillier among the young Canadians to watch.
Paul expects many of the teams to showcase young talent at Canadian events.
“It’s exciting for world rugby,” said Paul. “There are going to be stars emerging. “
With limited participation due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions linked to the pandemic, an accompanying women’s competition will feature just four teams: Canada, Great Britain, United States and Mexico.
The women’s “Fast Four” competition format will see teams compete before the top two decide for gold and the other two meet for the third. Former Canada captain Kelly Russell will coach the women’s seven-person team at the Canadian events.
Attendance in Vancouver will be capped at 50 percent of the lower bowl capacity at BC Place Stadium, making approximately 13,500 tickets available. Last year, a crowd of 39,533 – the largest one-day crowd in Canadian rugby history – saw the Canadian men step onto the podium.
The crowd will be larger outside at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Rugby Canada is making available half of the bottom pit with a capacity of 32,000 and could increase that figure to 60 percent if demand warrants.
World Rugby had announced that six men’s events and four women’s events were scheduled for 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 have not take place. And the Hong Kong Sevens, scheduled for November 5-7, were canceled earlier.
Next year, rugby sevens will also be at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (July 29-31) and the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Cape Town (September 9-11) after the World Series.
Last season, the men took part in six of the 10 scheduled tournaments and the women in five of the eight before the schedule ended. A women’s event in Langford, British Columbia, scheduled for early May last year, was one of the canceled tournaments.