Canadian men's rugby sevens team gearing up for last-ditch Olympic qualifier | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Canadian men's rugby sevens team gearing up for last-ditch Olympic qualifier

Team Canada head coach Liam Middleton pauses while speaking to reporters after a news conference ahead of the World Rugby Sevens Series' Canada Sevens tournament, in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday March 8, 2016. While a difficult season for Middleton's Canadian rugby sevens team is nearing a close, the biggest challenge still awaits.Canada, languishing in 13th place in the HSBC World Series overall standings, opens play Friday in Paris before concluding the world circuit in London May 21-22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
May 11, 2016 - 9:39 AM

While a difficult season for Liam Middleton's Canadian rugby sevens team is nearing a close, the biggest challenge still awaits.

Canada, languishing in 13th place in the HSBC World Series overall standings, opens play Friday in Paris before concluding the world circuit in London May 21-22. But the focus, as it has been all season, is on Monaco in June when the Canadian men try to qualify for the Rio Olympics at a last-ditch repechage tournament.

The final two World Series events are a balancing act for Middleton. He wants to rest some key veterans and introduce some players back from injury while preparing for the final push for Rio.

"That's not disrespecting the World Series as it is, because we want to do well in both tournaments and make sure we represent ourselves well," Middleton said. "But you can't get away from the fact from the fact that for us, we're not chasing winning the World Series right now.

"It's important that we play well in Paris and we play well in London and make sure we've got our players fresh— but at the same time on top of their game for the Monaco tournament."

Canada finished ninth overall on the circuit last season and sixth the year before. But this season its best tournament finish has been ninth — in Sydney and Vancouver. Last time out in Singapore, the Canadians failed to win a game and finished tied for 15th in the 16-country field. Before that, the team was 14th in Hong Kong.

In London, Middleton hopes to field as close to his Olympic qualifying squad as he can to prepare for the June 18-19 event in Monaco. He admits to being conservative in his team selection for Paris, giving players like Harry Jones (shoulder) and Phil Mack (knee) a little more time to return to game fitness.

Admir Cejvanovic (hamstring) and Adam Zaruba (knee) return to the lineup this weekend.

The Canadians have been drawn in a pool with Argentina, France and the U.S. in Paris. The Americans stand fifth in the standings while Argentina is sixth and France 10th.

Canada has yet to play Argentina this season. It is 1-1-0 against France and 0-1-1 against the Americans.

Middleton takes some positives from Singapore where his team, normally one of the best squads at restarts, was picked apart at kickoffs by the Americans and was sluggish early in games on Day 1.

"We had slow starts but we actually played good sevens," he said. "But there wasn't enough quality from us to turn what was good performances into wins."

Middleton pointed to the encouraging showing of young, inexperienced players like Matt Mullins, Luke Bradley and Phil Berna, which he says is a sign of depth in the program.

"They were amongst our top performers ... They have essentially earned though merit a place in the side in Paris and London. You can't argue with that."

The fresh faces mean there is competition to make the Olympic qualifying side alongside elite players like Nathan Hirayama, captain John Moonlight and Jones.

Hirayama leads the series in points with 288 and is tied for fifth with 26 tries.

"Paris and London performances will essentially mould the squad for Monaco and I would be reluctant to name my squad for Monaco today. A year ago, I would be pretty comfortable doing that," Middleton said.

That bodes well for the future. But the tight timeline for incorporating new faces is not ideal for Monaco, where No. 9 Samoa is favoured to secure the last Olympic berth up for grabs.

Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Tunisia, Uruguay and Zimbabwe are the other teams in the Olympic qualifier.

Argentina, Australia, Britain, Fiji, France, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S., and host Brazil have already qualified for the Olympic field.

After London, Middleton's team will return to its training base in Victoria prior to returning to Europe for the June qualifier. The squad is working with a sleep specialist to help it with the transatlantic travel.

Going into Paris, Fiji leads the World Series standings at 147 points with South Africa (139) second and New Zealand (135) third. Canada has 34 points in 13th.

Canada Roster for Paris Sevens

Phil Berna, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Luke Bradley, UVic, Port Alberni, B.C.; Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Burnaby, B.C.; Justin Douglas, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Mike Fuailefau, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Lucas Hammond, Toronto Nomads, Toronto; Nathan Hirayama, UVIC Vikes, Richmond, B.C.; Luke McCloskey, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; John Moonlight (capt.), James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Matt Mullins, Queens University, Ontario Blues, Belleville, Ont.; Conor Trainor, UBCOB Ravens, Vancouver; Sean White, James Bay AA, Victoria; Adam Zaruba, Capilano RFC, Vancouver.

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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