The Canadian men's rugby sevens team is no stranger to criss-crossing the globe. But April promises to be a stiff test for even these hardcore travellers.
The Canadians depart Friday for World Series stops in Hong Kong (April 6-8) and Singapore (April 28-29) sandwiched around the Commonwealth Games rugby tournament (April 13-15) in Gold Coast, Australia.
Spending a month on the road is gruelling for anyone. Having big bodies take a run at you at top speeds only adds to the challenge.
"If we can still have 12 of the 14 standing by the end of the month, that will be a terrific achievement by the players," said Canada coach Damian McGrath. "Because it does take its toll on the body and it's a very draining sport to play over a month's period like that.
"It will be a real challenge to the body so I'm hoping that we get through it with people relatively healthy."
The Canadian women have a similarly gruelling month with World Series stops in Japan (April 21-22) and Langford, B.C., (May 12-13) following the Commonwealth Games. Unlike the Canadian men, the women have yet to name their roster.
There are no surprises to McGrath's squad with Matt Mullins and Lucas Hammond drawing into the expanded 14-man squad and Luke Bradley, a victim of the numbers game with too many forwards, dropping out.
Phil Berna and Jake Thiel remain out with long-term injuries. Bradley, Josiah Morra and Jared Douglas are on standby in case of further injury.
McGrath continues his rotation of the captaincy with John Moonlight taking over as skipper for the trip. Harry Jones and Nate Hirayama are the team's other leaders.
Hirayama hasn't trained since the Match 10-11 World Series stop in Vancouver event due to a MRSA infection.
"That affected several of the team. Nate was the worst infected and he had a bit of a hospitalization," said McGrath.
"He's healthy now and he'll be fit, hopefully ready to go for Hong Kong."
Hirayama spent his 30th birthday in hospital, with a nasty hole in his leg to show for the experience.
CFL speedster Tevaughn Campbell remains in the squad on his last tour before rejoining the Montreal Alouettes for training camp.
"He's showed enough to show that he's got what it takes. And every day we spend with him, he gets better and better," said McGrath, who hopes Campbell will rejoin the team at some point in the future.
The congested April schedule is complicated for the Canadians in that all three events mean something. The venerable Hong Kong tournament is one of the World Series highlights. The Commonwealth Games only come around every four years. And Canada is defending champion in Singapore.
The 2017 win in Singapore was Canada's first, coming in its 140th event on the World Series.
The Gold Coast marks the sixth men's rugby sevens competition at the Commonwealth Games and the first for the women.
The 16-country men's field is impressive with the top four teams in the world and seven of the top 10: No. 1 South Africa, No. 2 Fiji, No. 3 New Zealand, No. 4 Australia, No. 7 England, No. 8 Kenya and No. 9 Samoa.
The Canadian men, currently 11th in the World Series standings, are in a pool with New Zealand, Kenya and Zambia, which is not on the circuit.
McGrath expects most of his opposition to rotate their roster during the busy month. Canada won't. "That simply because it's all the players we have available to us," he said.
Robina Stadium, home of the NRL's Gold Coast Titans, will host the games rugby.
New Zealand won the first four rugby sevens golds at the games, finishing runner-up to South Africa four years ago. Canada, whose best finish was sixth in 1998, was ninth four years ago in Glasgow.
It's been an up-and-down year on the World Series for the Canadian men, with more downs than ups.
Canada was fourth in Cape Town, with an impressive victory over Fiji en route to a loss to South Africa in the bronze medal game. But the Canadians were 11th in Dubai, 13th in Sydney, 11th in Hamilton, 10th in Las Vegas and 14th in Vancouver.
Canada has been drawn alongside Australia, Kenya and Spain in Hong Kong, which is expected to draw 120,00 spectators over the course of the competition.
Andrew Coe, Markham Irish, Toronto; Connor Braid, James Bay AA, Victoria; Tevaughn Campbell, unattached, Toronto; Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Burnaby, B.C.; Justin Douglas, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Lucas Hammond, Toronto Nomads, Toronto; Nathan Hirayama, unattached, Richmond, B.C.; Isaac Kaay, UVIC Vikes, Kamloops, B.C.; Pat Kay, Castaway Wanderers, Duncan, B.C.; Mike Fuailefau, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, North Vancouver; Luke McCloskey, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; John Moonlight (capt.), James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Matt Mullins, Queen’s University, Belleville, Ont.
Head Coach: Damian McGrath.
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