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Canadian rugby sevens team gears up for big year, with worlds just a year away

07/02/2012 10:38 EDT | Updated 09/01/2012 05:12 EDT
A year away from the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow and Canadian sevens boss Geraint John's datebook is already full.

The Canadian men will gather next week in Victoria, ahead of an Aug. 10-12 selection camp in the B.C. capital and the North America/Caribbean qualifying tournament Aug. 25-26 in Ottawa.

The region will send two teams to the 24-country men's half of the world sevens championship, with Canada and the U.S. favoured to go through.

Canada and the Americans will also both be full participants in the expanded 15-team, 10-event IRB World Series starting in the fall as world rugby starts the road to Olympic participation in 2016.

The U.S. has already qualified for the 16-team women's field at the Moscow tournament, by virtue of a top-four finish at the 2009 World Cup Sevens, with Canada expected to secure the other berth from the region. The Canadian women finished sixth in 2009.

Men's and women's teams from more than 90 countries are expected to take part in the eight-month global qualification process.

At 2009 World Cup Sevens in Dubai, the Canadian men went 2-1-0 in their opening group but failed to make the quarter-finals. Instead they went to the consolation Plate, where they lost 12-5 to Portugal in the quarters.

Wales won the men's tournament, defeating Argentina 19-12.

The Canadian women were beaten by New Zealand in the 2009 quarter-finals, before losing 12-0 to England in the consolation Plate final. Australia won the women's trophy, beating New Zealand 15-10.

On the men's side, Wales, Argentina, New Zealand, Samoa, England, Fiji, Kenya and South Africa are automatic qualifiers for the June 28-20 event at the Luzhniki Olympic Complex in Moscow based on their 2009 performance.

The automatic qualifiers on the women's side are Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.S.

As host, Russia gets automatic qualification in both the men's and women's competitions.

Good performances by Canada in Moscow are needed to help keep the flow of funding coming in the leadup to the Olympics.

"Our funding partners, Sport Canada and Own The Podium, really look at world championships and how you progress at world championships," said John, director and head coach of the national senior men's sevens program.

The World Cup Sevens is a one-off tournament with its own qualifying format. Participation in the World Series is determined by past performances on the sevens circuit.

At this stage, the sevens Olympic qualification process has yet to be detailed.

John expects a minimum of eight and perhaps as many as 12 teams in the World Cup Sevens men's qualifying tournament. Teams hoping for an upset result in qualifying on the men's side include the Cayman Islands, Guyana and Bermuda.

John plans to have 30 players at his selection camp but will be without the injured John Moonlight and captain Nathan Hirayama (both coming off shoulder surgery). Teenage winger Taylor Paris has been released to join his new pro club, the Glasgow Warriors, and Conor Trainor may have to beg off due to school/work commitments.

On the plus side, veteran Phil Mack has recovered from knee surgery.

After the qualifying tournament, assuming Canada advances, John will be able to test and refine his team on the World Series schedule, which starts in October in Australia and ends in May in London.

The inaugural Rugby World Cup Sevens was held in 1993 in Scotland, the birthplace of Rugby Sevens, and the 2013 edition will be the sixth — and the second to include a women's competition.

The men's winner is awarded the Melrose Cup, named after the Scottish town where rugby sevens was first played.

Next year promises to be a busy one for the Canadian men, with the possibility of 15-man test matches against Ireland and the U.S. Canada may also take part in the summer Pacific Cup alongside the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

That requires co-ordination with Canada coach Kieran Crowley.

"We've already started discussions on how everything fits in," said John.

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