SPORTS

Canadian men have high hopes for Hong Kong Sevens after recent successes

03/21/2013 06:24 EDT | Updated 05/21/2013 05:12 EDT
There will be no shortage of hard bodies at the Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel this weekend with 28 men's rugby teams including Canada staying there for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.

"It's a little bit different than most international tournaments where sometimes you don't meet your opposing player until you get onto the field," said Canadian coach Geraint John.

"But here you eat with the teams that you play against, you meet with the coaches all the time, you're walking past them, you're in the elevators with them."

Hong Kong is a special stop on the IRB Sevens circuit for many reasons. The tournaments lasts three days instead of two and the 40,000-seat stadium will be packed from beginning to end.

The event features several competitions, with two main events for the men.

The 15 core countries and host Hong Kong make up the top tier event. Then there is another 12-country event, which will send the top four teams to a qualifying event in May to help determine the makeup of the 2013-14 series.

After Hong Kong, the focus swings to events in Japan and Scotland. The top 12 teams will then compete in London, the final stop on the circuit this season.

The teams ranked 13th through 15 will take part in a promotion tournament, along with Asian champion Hong Kong and four teams from this week's second-tier Hong Kong event. The promotion tournament will determine the three available core spots on the 2013-15 circuit.

Canada, currently ranked 10th in the standings, hopes to cement its core status well ahead of that by finishing in the top 12.

The Canadian men, coming in on the heels of fine performances in New Zealand and the U.S., have high hopes in Hong Kong in a group that includes Fiji, Spain and the host country.

They beat Fiji 28-19 in New Zealand en route to winning the consolation Bowl competition.

"Fiji was a big big scalp to have," said John.

That tournament also included a 31-7 victory over Spain.

Before that, the Canadians won the second-tier Plate competition in Las Vegas by beating Scotland to finish fifth.

This season has been ultra-competitive on the sevens circuit with five different winners on the five stops to date. Only New Zealand has finished in the top eight in every event.

Canada does have some injury issues. Phil Mack was unable to make the roster due to a rib injury and Jeff Hassler injured a hamstring in a practise session with England on Wednesday.

Taylor Paris replaced Mack on the roster while Mike Fuailefau was summoned from B.C. as an emergency replacement, embarking on a 13-hour trip that was due to have him land at 11:15 p.m. local time Thursday.

"Hopefully the adrenalin will help him in getting through the three days," said John.

Canada opens Friday against Spain with games Saturday against Hong Kong and Fiji. The playoffs go Sunday.

As is their tradition on the road, the Canadian men took in the local scenery with a visit to the racetrack.

"The players thoroughly enjoyed it," said John. "I don't think we made any money out of it but it was a good, fun evening."

The Canadian women are also at Hong Kong in a 12-team tournament, competing in a group with Japan and the host country.

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