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Canada faces tough task in opening match at Rugby World Sevens in Moscow

06/27/2013 12:37 EDT | Updated 08/27/2013 05:12 EDT
Canada faces a stiff test in its opening match at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow on Friday when it takes on reigning World Series champion New Zealand.

The All Blacks won stops in South Africa and England, finished runner-up in five evens and placed third in the other two events to easily claim the overall title.

But while New Zealand dominates the annual circuit, it has only one title at the World Cup Sevens, held every four years. And that came 12 years ago in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

The All Blacks were runners-up in 2005 but failed to make the final four in 2009 when Wales defeated Argentina for the crown. England (1993) and Fiji (1997 and 2005) are the other World Cup sevens champions.

The Canadians finished 12th on the sevens circuit this season with some breakthrough performances. But they have never beaten the All Blacks.

"There's always a first (time)," said Canadian coach Geraint John.

Canada lost 17-0 to the All Blacks in Las Vegas, 22-12 in Tokyo and 28-21 on the Gold Coast in Australia.

"We've had three very competitive games with them this year," said John. "Much better than what we've ever done before.

"We've got to go in with an attitude of belief and also at attitude of attacking them as well. We mustn't sit back and wait for things to happen. We have to go out there and make things happen."

Canada wraps up play in Pool D on Saturday against the U.S. and Georgia. The tournament wraps up Sunday with playoffs.

The Canadians have never played Georgia, which wasn't on the World Cup circuit, but have a spirited rivalry with the Americans, who placed 11th in the series standings.

Unlike the annual World Series, which features 16 teams per tournament, the World Cup encompasses 24 squads split into six pools. The six pool winners will advance to the quarter-finals along with the two best runners-up.

That means points for and against will be crucial for team hoping to snag the final two spots in the quarters.

Nathan Hirayama takes over the Canadian captaincy from Nanyak Dala, who was skipper during the World Series season. Dala was announced as captain when the Moscow squad was initially announced but John said that was a miscommunication.

Hirayama, who finished third in scoring on the World Series circuit, got the nod for being a "guaranteed starter," according to John.

The teams will have to deal with heat and humidity at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, which hosted the 1980 Olympics. Canada, which arrived Monday, takes the field at 3:44 p.m. local time Friday with a forecast high of 28 degrees Celsius.

"We knew it would be warm but didn't really think it would be as humid perhaps as well," John said.

The Canadian team took time out Thursday to visit Red Square. Under John, the squad looks to take in some of the local sights wherever it goes. The practice helps take the team's mind off the challenge ahead while allowing the players to enjoy some of the fruits of their worldwide travels.

And the Canadians haven't stopped moving in recent weeks, with the majority of the sevens squad having been involved with the 15-man team during a gruelling Pacific Nations Cup campaign that took the team from Ottawa to Nagoya, Japan.

While the Canadian coaches have tried to rotate their squad and limit contact sessions, Dala, Ciaran Hearn, Taylor Paris and Mike Fuailefau all made the long journey to Japan, where Canada finished off its PNC campaign on June 18.

According to John, some of the players have been on the road for 45 of the last 53 days.

The good news is the World Cup tournament schedule is split over three days rather than the normal two. So Canada has to contend with just one 14-minute game Friday.

Canada is a team to watch in the 16-country women's competition. The Canadian women are in a pool with New Zealand, the Netherlands and Tunisia.

The Canadians had mixed results this season but finished on a high, reaching the final in Amsterdam where they lost 33-24 to World Series champion New Zealand.

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