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Canada sevens team focused solely on present in Glasgow, keeping eye on the prize

05/07/2015 11:39 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Canadian rugby sevens coach Liam Middleton wants his players firmly focused on the now this weekend in Glasgow.

Not the past, despite the fact that the Canadian men made history last year at the Glasgow stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series when they reached the final for the first time on the circuit (they lost 54-7 to New Zealand in the championship game).

And not the future. Canada has been drawn in a group in Glasgow with the United States. The two North American rivals teams are likely on a Olympic qualifying collision course that will culminate June 13-14 in Cary, N.C.

"We've made a real point of the focus being entirely on Glasgow " said Middleton, who took over from Geraint John this season. "We don't want to get caught up in looking ahead towards London (the last stop on the circuit) or looking ahead towards the (Olympic) qualifier.

"That's my kind of job, to be strategizing around that time. I made the strong point that it's important that we just focus on this tournament."

Still the Glasgow tournament kicks off Saturday with the Canada-U.S. game, and Middleton knows a good result is critical to achieving the goal of advancing to the Cup quarter-finals.

The Canadians play No. 8 Argentina and No. 15 Japan later Saturday at Scotstoun Stadium.

The top four teams in the World Series standings (currently South Africa, Fiji, New Zealand and England) at the end of the season will qualify automatically for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Americans currently stand sixth and the Canadians 11th.

Those who don't qualify automatically will take their fight to regional tournaments.

The Canadians have played the Americans three times this season, losing 17-15 on the Gold Coast (before Middleton took over), 20-0 in Las Vegas and 22-14 in Tokyo.

"It's always one that's on our minds and the minds of the players. You can't get away from that," Middleton said of the rivalry with the Americans.

Middleton see the Argentines as a "very gritty side." The Japanese, meanwhile, did not win a game on the first five season stops but have made rapid progress with the addition of Fijian-born Lote Tuqiri and Tongan-born Lomano Lemeki, reaching the Cup quarter-finals in Tokyo last time out.

The Japanese are now focused on finishing high enough to retain their status as a core team on the circuit.

"They're going to be a hard team to beat in the next two tournaments because they're fighting for their lives," said Middleton.

Canada is coming off its best performance of the season, a fourth-place finish in Tokyo. And Middleton has had two full weeks of training with his squad, a rarity given the demands on players who do double duty with the 15-man national team.

Still the Canadian team's season-long battle with injuries continues. Nathan Hirayama is welcomed back from a shoulder injury but Lucas Hammond and Justin Douglas join Mike Scholz, Nanyak Dala and Phil Mack on the sidelines.

"It's one step forward, three back," said Middleton. "We've been debilitated with injuries this year and it's the fallout from just poor player management last season and unfortunately we're paying the price for it.

"I don't think it will change. It will take us six months to put it in the right place."

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Canada Roster

Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Vancouver; Mike Fuailefau, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, North Vancouver; Ciaran Hearn, Castaway Wanderers, Conception Bay South, N.L.; Pat Kay, UVIC Vikes, Duncan, B.C.; John Moonlight (capt.), James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Nathan Hirayama, UVIC Vikes, Vancouver; Conor Trainor, UBCOB Ravens, Vancouver; Liam Underwood, Balmy Beach RFC, Toronto; Sean Duke, UVIC Vikes, Vancouver; Sean White, James Bay AA, Victoria; Adam Zaruba, Capilano RFC, Vancouver; Pat Parfrey, James Bay AA, St. John's; Lucas Hammond, Toronto Nomads, Toronto.

Head coach: Liam Middleton.

Assistant coach: Kieran Crowley.

Manager: Brian Hunter.

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