Dubai Rugby Sevens: Canada’s squads on the road to Rio 2016

Update: On day one Canada’s women advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 record. This included wins over Fiji and Brazil, and a day-ending loss to England. Canada will play the USA in the QFs.

It’s on. Both Canadian rugby sevens teams are in Dubai, the women beginning their 2014-15 series, the men on leg two.

The goal for both? Be top four by the end of the Sevens Series (it’s called the Sevens World Series for the gents) and Rio is a sure thing. If not, it gets trickier. See below for everything about qualification.

The women have been in Dubai since last Tuesday, getting used to the time zone after a stop in Australia for a preparation tournament. According to head coach John Tait, they are healthy. Ready, if necessary, to play the Canadian style of ‘punching through’ opposing sides.

But they don’t want to.

“Canada’s always relied on the physical game to overwhelm, we need to improve our possession game where we can score without trying to overwhelm teams physically,” says Tait.

The 6’8” former player (38 caps for Canada) has seen his women’s teams mow over opponents but also be danced around. Sevens is a wide open game. Savvier countries like Australia and New Zealand avoid contact, preferring to carry the ball and run for the open air.

Montreal's Bianca Farella is one example of Canada's ability to score in a variety of situations.

Montreal’s Bianca Farella is one example of Canada’s ability to score in a variety of situations.

Tait says he made the off-season about versatility: “We have the ability to play a few different styles. A line-up that physically over-matches some teams that don’t have that size. We also have some quality speedsters and enough skill to play a game of keeping it out of contact.”

Live scores and streaming for Dubai Women’s Seven Series

The men begin on Friday facing unique challenges. They had a rough start to the season, earning only three points on the Gold Coast to rank 13th of out 16 nations. What’s more, an injury to top scorer Harry Jones has required Pat Kay to step in.

The bright side for Canada is the return of Phil Mack, named to last year’s ‘Dream Team’ and coming off rehab following summer surgery. “I was disappointed not to be able to compete in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games and on the Gold Coast. We’re looking gain series points to climb the ladder and it starts with two strong tournaments before the [Christmas] break,” said Mack on the Rugby Canada website.

Sean White and Admir Cejvanovic are the other two additions to the Canadian line-up.

Head coach Liam Middleton says five of his young players have never been to the Dubai sevens. “We’ve got a group of pretty experienced players and we’ve got a group of reasonably inexperienced players. The challenge for me was to bring everyone up to one standard in terms of the basics,” says Middleton of the preparation.

This tournament will be the 37-year-old’s first as Canada’s new head coach.

Gold Coast Sevens 2014

Captain John Moonlight was one of two Canadians (with Phil Mack) to be on the World Series ‘Dream Team’ last season.

Canada is in Pool D with Wales, Portugal and South Africa – all ranked ahead of them. And while it’s still early, neither the men nor women can afford to fall behind in the race to top four. “We’ve gone into every tournament saying we want to win, if we want to get to the Olympics and want to medal like we have planned, we’re going into these games and put everything out on the field,” says captain John Moonlight who also earned a ‘Dream Team’ nod last season.

Live scores and streaming for Dubai Sevens World Series

Beyond Dubai the men have South Africa as stop three, December 13th and 14th. The second women’s tournament isn’t until February 7th and 8th in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

How Canada’s Rugby Sevens can be one of 16 teams at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games:

  1. Finish top four in the Sevens Series. The men have nine stops. The women have six. Both series end in May 2015
  2. Win the regional qualifier. For Canada this is the North America and Caribbean (NACRA) Regional Association Sevens Championship. All regional qualifiers would occur between June and December 2015
  3. Win the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament. With 10 teams in and one spot given to the host nation Brazil, that leaves a single spot for the winner of the final tournament. Getting here depends on placement at the regional championships .

What are Canada’s chances?

Last year the women were third overall on the Series, the men finished a best-ever sixth. If the women can keep their form they have a good shot at qualifying out of the Sevens Series.

The men are in tough and would have to be in the mix with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Fiji or England. It’s more likely they will take their shot at the NACRA Sevens Championship.

Photo credits: Martin Seras Lima/Rugby Canada