NEWS
06/20/2016 13:29 EDT | Updated 06/21/2017 01:12 EDT

Rugby Canada to review men's sevens program in wake of failure to reach Rio

TORONTO — Rugby Canada promises a "thorough review" of its men's seven program after the team failed to qualify for the Olympics at a weekend repechage tournament.

Unheralded Spain ended up earning the last berth in the Olympic field, upsetting favoured Samoa 22-19 on a last-second try in the final. Canada finished fifth after falling 14-12 to Russia in the quarter-finals in Monaco.

It was the latest setback for coach Liam Middleton's team, which finished 13th on the HSBC World Series.

"I don't think there's any doubt we're disappointed in our season," said Jim Dixon, Rugby Canada's general manager of rugby operations and performance. "And not qualifying for Rio is a huge disappointment for everybody involved in the organization.

"So yes, there's no hiding from that. There's absolutely disappointment in the season and the performance this year. But we now need to look more closely at why that is and the factors that have led to such a season and obviously not qualifying."

Such scrutiny is not unusual. Rugby Canada reviews its programs annually and at the end of four-year cycles, with input from funding partners Sport Canada and Own The Podium.

"That process obviously starts earlier than we wanted to," said Dixon.

The last Rugby Canada review, following last fall's Rugby World Cup, eventually led to a coaching change. Kieran Crowley initially accepted a short contract extension in the wake of the review, which came with several recommendations on changing the program, but quit soon after to take a club job in Italy.

Middleton's contract runs through November.

Named Canada's coach in September 2014, the Zimbabwe native has developed depth in the squad but has had to operate in an environment that has seen other countries make considerable strides, pouring in more resources given the lure of the Olympics.

He also had to deal with sharing his talent with the 15s national team although the two programs are now moving on separate paths. 

It was a strange season for the Canadian men, who were forced to juggle two different goals — protecting their core status on the World Series with a longer-term target of Olympic qualification after failing to beat the U.S. last summer in a regional qualifying tournament.

The team had its share of bad luck, failing to qualify for the elite Cup quarter-finals in three of the 10 events on tour. One of those was the debut event in Vancouver, where Canada won five of six games only to finish ninth.

While the team excelled in periods, there were more lows than highs. A 12-match losing streak that included failing to post a win in Singapore and Paris towards the end of the season did little to build momentum.

As in many sports, sevens players in Canada have to make do with limited resources. A Sport Canada card is worth $1,500 a month, plus a university subsidy grant with Rugby Canada helping with meals.

Sevens players in countries with more established programs can do a lot better financially.

Review aside, Dixon says it will be business as usual for the sevens squad, with the next goal the 2016-17 World Series. He expects the sevens review to be done by July.

The Canadian women's seven team has already qualified for Rio and is considered a medal threat after finishing second and third overall the last two seasons on the world circuit.

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