A breakthrough year for the Canadian rugby sevens team continues this weekend in Tokyo, the seventh round of the nine-stop HSBC Sevens World Series.
The Canadian men lost 12-7 to Samoa in the Plate final to finish sixth last weekend in Hong Kong. Before that, they finished fifth in Las Vegas, defeating Scotland 22-5 to win the Plate competition, and beat Fiji 28-19 in the Bowl final to place ninth in New Zealand.
Canada, restored as one of the full-time core teams this season, currently stands ninth in the series standings. The goal is to be in the top 12.
After the Scotland event — the eighth on the calendar — teams 13 through 15 in the standings will have to take part in a promotion/relegation tournament alongside Asian champion Hong Kong and Georgia, Russia, Tonga and Zimbabwe, who finished in the top four of a qualifying event last weekend.
From that eight, three will secure core status for next season.
England, Australia, Scotland, Portugal, the U.S. and Spain currently rank below Canada in the standings.
Canadian coach Geraint John and his players are more focused on top-ranked New Zealand, No. 7 France and unranked host Japan this weekend. The four open play Saturday in Pool C.
It speaks volume about raised Canadian expectations that John's men were disappointed at their sixth-place finish in Hong Kong.
"I don't think we played or performed particularly well over the weekend," John said from Tokyo. "But sometimes a sign of a good side is when you don't perform well but you can still scrape out results and manage to get some victories along the way and I think we managed to do that."
"We have to be happy," he added. "Because that was the third time we've been top six this season which we've never done before."
The Canadians also finished sixth in Dubai.
The All Blacks will be a handful this weekend, having made four of six finals this season. Series leader New Zealand is the only side to have reach a Cup quarter-final every time out.
France started well in the first three tournaments, but has tapered off over the last three.
First up is Japan, however.
"We have to make sure that we are not just physically ready but probably mentally ready for that," said John. "We don't want to be looking ahead to France or New Zealand. We have to make sure we perform against Japan."
Canada did not play particularly well against host Hong Kong last weekend, which may serve as a timely reminder this week.
Still, John believes the Canadian men have turned heads with their performances this season.
"We're now a recognizable force," said the coach. "We've gained respect, not just from opposing team but I think by everybody that watches the game now. And I think we deserve that."
Canada has beaten all the core teams this year with the exception of New Zealand,.
It's been an unpredictable year on the circuit with Fiji (twice), England, Samoa, South Africa and New Zealand all posting wins.
Australia is defending champion in Tokyo but currently sits in 11th spot.
As is their tradition, the Canadian men took time to take in a little of the local atmosphere this week, visiting the Sensoji Temple
The Canadian women, meanwhile, play this weekend in Guangzhou, China — the third stop of their four-event circuit.
New Zealand currently lead the women's standings with 34 points, ahead of Australia (30) and England (28). Canada (18) is seventh.
In China, the Canadian women are in Pool B with Australia, unranked Ireland and No. 11 Japan.