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Canadian rugby sevens side opens World Series season with high expectations

10/08/2014 11:27 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST
Canada's rugby sevens team faces more challenges this season than finding a replacement set of size 15 boots for Adam Zaruba, whose luggage did not join him upon touching down in Australia this week.

The Canadian men arrived at the Gold Coast Sevens with the weight of expectations after a record sixth-place finish in last season's IRB World Series. They will likely surprise no one this season.

"I think that's one of our big challenges this year," acting Canadian coach Ben Herring said Wednesday from Australia. "Maybe last year teams didn't treat us as seriously as they should. I think people will be under no illusions that we can perform at a good level.

"It makes it harder for us in that teams will be making sure they put on their best performances here. But that's great for us because that's where we want to be. We want teams to take us seriously and play with an intensity that they would treat any of the top sides. We've got to deal with that. We're prepared and we come ready for that."

Herring, Rugby Canada's technical coach and performance analyst, is in charge of the team while newly hired coach Liam Middleton of Zimbabwe goes through immigration red tape. Kieran Crowley, coach of the national 15-man team, had been guiding the sevens squad in the interim but he is back in B.C. for the IRB Americas Championship, which starts Saturday in Langford.

Geraint John, the Welsh coach who took Canada to new highs last season, is now at the Australia helm.

Under John, Canada reached the final in Glasgow and placed third in Las Vegas in 2013-14.

For Herring, sixth overall is Canada's benchmark. "We want to improve on that for the season."

The opening Australian stop on the nine-event circuit is a one-off. The other eight are split in four sets of two a week apart, starting with stops in Dubai on Dec. 5-6 and South Africa Dec. 13-14.

That may help a Canadian team that is hurting at the moment. Nanyak Dala, Nathan Hirayama, Phil Mack, Mike Scholz and Sean White were all unavailable to Herring due to injury.

Despite the injuries, Canada has depth that was carefully nurtured under John's tenure. Herring has also brought the uncapped Zaruba — who got new boots thanks to resourceful team manager Brian Hunter — and Jack Smith to Australia.

"The senior guys are surrounded by some guys who are just super-pumped up to here," said Herring. "So the energy's actually been really high."

New Zealand is the defending World Series and Gold Coast tournament champion heading into play Saturday and Sunday at the Cbus Super Stadium.

Canada opens in a group with Argentina, England and the U.S. England placed fourth in the 2013-14 season standings while Argentina was ninth and the U.S. 13th.

There is more at stake on the circuit this season with the top four teams qualifying for the 2016 Olympics where the sport will make its Games debut. One team will advance from each of six IRB regional competitions, with another coming from a world playoff. Brazil, as host country, qualifies automatically.

"I don't think anyone here needs any extra incentive when we play the U.S. but there are those extra things there," Herring said. "Ideally we want to strive to not take it down to a one-off (qualification) game but if that's what it comes down to, that's further down the track I think.

"First and foremost for us is to just keep performing on a regular basis on the circuit and part of that is beating U.S.A. consistently."

Herring, 34, is a New Zealand native who played for the Highlanders and Hurricanes in New Zealand from 2001 to 2007, and for the Leicester Tigers in England from 2007 to 2009. He was an assistant coach at Leicester before moving to Japan to coach the NEC Green Rockets.

While Canada enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013-14, its campaign started poorly with rocky performances in Australia, Dubai and South Africa.

Other teams have the advantage of longer pre-Series sevens camps while Canada splits its players with the 15-man squad. While Herring says he had two good weeks to prepare with his squad, at one stage ahead of the tournament Canada had just four fit players available for training.

The Canadian women's sevens team will also be Down Under, playing three weekend games against Australia as part of its preparation for the Women’s Sevens World Series, which opens Dec. 4 in Dubai.

The Canadian women, third on the circuit last season will spend most of October training in Australia.

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Canada Men

Justin Douglas, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Sean Duke, UVIC Vikes, Vancouver; Mike Fuailefau, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Lucas Hammond, Toronto Nomads, Toronto; Ciaran Hearn, Castaway Wanderers, Conception Bay South, N.L.; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, North Vancouver; John Moonlight (capt.), James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Jack Smith, James Bay AA, Lakefield, Ont.; Conor Trainor, UBCOB Ravens, Vancouver; Jake Webster, James Bay AA, Lindsay, Ont.; Jordan Wilson-Ross, James Bay AA, Alliston, Ont.; Adam Zaruba, Capilano RFC, Vancouver.

Canada Women

Elissa Alarie, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Rugby Club, Trois-Rivieres, Que.; Emily Belchos, Markham Irish RFC, Barrie, Ont.; Hannah Darling, Peterborough Pagans, Warsaw, Ont.; Arielle Dubissette-Borrice, Toronto Scottish RFC, Toronto; Bianca Farella, Town of Mount Royal RFC, Montreal; Paige Farries, Druid RFC, Red Deer, Alta.; Julia Greenshields, Sarnia Saints, Sarnia, Ont.; Magali Harvey, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City; Sara Kaljuvee, Toronto Scottish RFC, Pickering, Ont.; Jennifer Kish, Edmonton Rockers RFC, Edmonton; Ghislaine Landry, Toronto Scottish RFC, Toronto; Kayla Mack, Wild Oats RFC, Saskatoon; Mandy Marchak, Capilano RFC, Winnipeg; Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Karen Paquin, Club de Rugby Quebec, Quebec City; Nadia Popov, Aurora Barbarians, Newmarket, Ont.; Kelly Russell, Toronto Nomads, Bolton, Ont.; Ashley Steacy, Lethbridge Rugby Club, Lethbridge, Alta.

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