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Canada’s rugby 7s teams come to Vancouver looking to reverse sagging fortunes

Women sit 6th in the standings, men 11th as 3-day Vancouver competition starts Friday
Team Canada’s Phil Berna looks for an open player as he’s tackled by Team Jamaica’s Nic Franklyn during men’s rugby action at the Rugby Sevens Paris 2024 Olympic qualification event at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. After a disappointing showing at the Perth stop of the HSBC SVNS Series, both the Canadian men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams are looking for home comforts in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

After a disappointing showing at the Perth stop of the HSBC SVNS Series, both the Canadian men’s and women’s rugby sevens squads are looking for better results in Vancouver.

The women’s side lost a tight Cup quarterfinal 7-0 to Britain in Perth, eventually finishing seventh, while the men’s team ended up in 12th.

Phil Berna, playing in his 50th sevens series, said he and his teammates are looking to put the experience in Australia behind them and focus on the present.

“We had a bit of a tough one in Perth results wise and injuries wise, we lost three key members,” he said. “I thought I broke my leg at one point and now I’m back training so I’m really grateful to be back.”

The focus, he added, is integrating younger players into the squad for when absences pile up for Olympic qualifying in Monaco.

“It’s another opportunity for new guys that we’re going to need at the end of the year when injuries inevitably happen — and they’re getting exposure now,” he said.

Men’s head coach Sean White, who played in the first of the competitions held in Vancouver as part of the sevens series, said his team is looking to improve its consistency.

He pointed out his team went 0-5 at the tournaments in Dubai and Perth while finishing seventh at Cape Town, which shows a need for consistency.

“How do we make that moment last longer?” White said. “When we play our game, and it’s a very basic game, we don’t try to overcomplicate what we do on the field, but when we get it right, we’re dangerous. We just hope to get it right more often than we don’t.”

Heading into the three-day Vancouver competition that starts Friday, the Canadian women are sixth in the overall standings, while the men’s team sits 11th.

Sophie de Goede, the captain of Canada’s women’s rugby 15s team, current Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby points leader and 2022 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee, will make her return for the women’s rugby 7s team in Vancouver.

She made her international sevens series debut last May at HSBC France Sevens and helped Canada’s Women’s Sevens Team qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics in August in Langford, B.C.

“I think the start to the season in Dubai and Cape Town was a really strong start for us bouncing back from finishing ninth in the overall series last year, and then bit of a dip back for us in Perth,” she said.

“So I think this is a really good opportunity for us to have a big bounce back tournament at home.”

Women’s head coach Jack Henratty said he and his team are “disappointed” with their place in the current standings, but it’s an improvement from last season.

“We’re sixth at the moment, I think all in all we’re disappointed but it’s a much better place than ninth was at the end of last year,” Henratty said.

“We were very disappointed last year. We looked at it and said ‘we’re a better team than ninth’ but the facts and the results said differently.”

Vancouver was confirmed as one of eight stops on the sevens circuit in July, having first been introduced as one for the men’s games in 2016.

There had been concerns that the popular stop wouldn’t make the cut as World Rugby looked to streamline the tournament series, but White and Berna emphasized the importance of having a Canadian destination on the circuit.

“I don’t know offhand if the numbers are growing, but I think tournaments like this, you know, really give that opportunity for growth,” White said.

After Vancouver, the teams head to Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore before wrapping up in Madrid from May 31 to June 2.

The men’s team will also play an Olympic qualifier in Monaco in June.

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