By Bryan Kelly
Rugby Canada has named the men’s and women’s roster for the Dubai Sevens, the first round of the 2017-18 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series which begins for the women on Thursday, November 30 in Dubai.
The tournament kicks off an important eight month stretch for the women’s sevens program, which sees them competing in the WSS as well as the Commonwealth Games in April and the World Cup in July.
Canada’s depth will be showcased in Dubai, where two new players will be making their senior debuts as coach John Tait has selected Emma Chown and Tausani Levale into the squad, joining an experienced group which includes Britt Benn, Caroline Crossley, Hannah Darling, Julia Greenshields, Jen Kish, captain Ghislaine Landry, Megan Lukan, Kayla Moleschi, Breanne Nicholas and Natasha Watcham-Roy.
With injuries to Bianca Farella, Sara Kaljuvee, Kaili Lukan and Charity Williams, Tait is turning to Chown and Levale, who turned 18 in October. The two players impressed the head coach last month in Australia where Canada held a preseason training camp and also competed in the Central Coast Sevens.
“Both have been playing consistently well and improving every week,” said Tait. “They both executed their roles well in Australia and did a good job of looking after the ball. Emma has really good speed and size while Tausani is a good playmaker and has developed skillsets beyond her age. Dubai will give us an opportunity to see how they do at the series level and grow the depth of our player pool with series experience.”
Dubai is one of five tournaments on the circuit this season, with stops coming in Sydney, Kitakyushu,
Langford and Paris. Canada has finished in the top three of the WSS five years in a row and Tait hopes a strong showing in Dubai will be the catalyst for another successful season. “With only five series stops this season it means that we need to finish in the top two or three at each tournament to be in contention to win the overall series going into the last couple of legs,” said Tait. “We have had a good warmup tournament in Australia to knock off the rust but even so, Dubai is always tough for us to transition from training in the wet and cold of Victoria to playing top-level teams in the desert heat. I am confident in our structures though, and if we connect defensively and on attack the way we can then everyone will be better for it and the performance and results will come.”
While Canada has won tournaments before and finished on the podium many times, they’ve never finished a season first in the WSS standings. It’s something Tait would like to change. “Our primary goal this season will be to win the overall series, something we haven’t yet achieved, which will set us up with seeding and momentum to contest for the World Cup this summer,” said Tait. “We have a team that believes they can win every time we perform but also realize that to perform we need to focus on individual roles and execution of them. If the opposition doesn’t match that with their own performance we will win.”
Canada’s Women’s Roster
Britt Benn – Guelph Redcoats (Napanee, ON)
Emma Chown – Kingston Panthers (Barrie, ON)
Caroline Crossley – Castaway Wanderers (Victoria, BC)
Hannah Darling – Peterborough Pagans (Warsaw, ON)
Julia Greenshields – Sarnia Saints (Sarnia, ON)
Jen Kish – Edmonton Rockers (Edmonton, ON)
Tausani Levale – Abbotsford Griffins (Abbotsford, BC)
Ghislaine Landry – Toronto Scottish (Toronto, ON)
Megan Lukan – Unattached (Barrie, ON)
Kayla Moleschi – Williams Lake Rustlers (Williams Lake, BC)
Breanne Nicholas – London St. Georges RFC (Blenheim, ON)
Natasha Watcham-Roy – Hull Volant (Gatineau, QC)
Canada’s Women’s Day 1 Schedule – Women (Thursday, November 30):
Canada vs Spain at 3:22 am ET / 12:22 am PT
Canada vs Ireland at 6:18 am ET / 3:18 am PT
Canada vs Fiji at 9:15 am ET / 6:15 am PT
On the men’s side head coach Damian McGrath has named North Vancouver’s Harry Jones as Captain to lead an experienced team, who will play on Friday, December 1. “The players are so keen to get back playing; for 75% of the squad it’s their first game since May 2017 at least. Pre-season has gone on for what seems like an eternity, so we are ready to get started,” said McGrath.
“Apart from Andrew Coe (Fifteens) and Adam Zaruba (unavailable) everyone is available, which is a novelty in itself. The return of Connor Braid and Admir Cejvanovic is a plus, but to welcome back Liam Underwood and Phil Berna, who both virtually missed the entire season last year after injury, is a bonus,” added McGrath.
The 2017-18 season consists of 10 tournaments on the World Series, along with the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April and the Rugby World Cup 7s in July in USA. “We have African opposition in our pool to start the series in Dubai: South Africa is the reigning champion and seem to be as strong and as formidable as ever; Uganda is amongst the batch of improving Sevens nations who posed Canada and others problems last year in Dubai; Kenya is a difficult team to play at any time – they are big strong, powerful players whose speed can unlock any team. Our opening game against Kenya is a key one,” added McGrath.
Returning veterans include John Moonlight, who is Canada’s all time tournament cap leader, and Hirayama. The Richmond, BC native sits 14th on the all-time points scoring race with 1,130 and finished last season in 4th with 269 points.
Last year Canada made history by winning their first-ever tournament in 140 appearances on the World Series, by defeating USA 26-19 to capture the Singapore Cup Trophy in April. Canada would finish the series in 8th place through at the finale in London. “We proved last year that we can be among the top 8 teams in the world, however I think it’s important we don’t get carried away; we are a tier 2 nation punching above our weight in so many ways, yet we can compete and are still improving.
“A good start would set the scene for a good season ahead,” added McGrath. Abbotsford’s Justin Douglas had a breakout season as Canada’s top finisher, scoring 40 tries in 10 tournaments, good enough for third behind USA’s Perry Baker (57) and England’s Dan Norton (51).
Canada’s Men’s Roster
Phil Berna – UBC Thunderbirds (Vancouver, BC)
Connor Braid – James Bay AA (Victoria, BC)
Admir Cejvanovic – Burnaby Lake RFC (Burnaby, BC)
Justin Douglas – Abbotsford RFC (Abbotsford, BC)
Mike Fuailefau – Castaway Wanderers (Victoria, BC)
Lucas Hammond – Toronto Nomads (Toronto, ON)
Nathan Hirayama – Unattached (Richmond, BC)
Harry Jones – Captain, Capilano RFC (North Vancouver, BC)
Isaac Kaay – UVIC Vikes (Kamloops, BC)
Pat Kay – Castaway Wanderers (Duncan, BC)
John Moonlight – James Bay AA (Pickering, ON)
Matt Mullins – Queen’s University (Belleville, ON)
Liam Underwood – Balmy Beach RFC (Toronto, ON)
Canada’s Men’s Schedule on Friday, December 1:
Canada vs. Kenya – 10:30am local time (1:30am ET on Friday/10:30pm PT on Thursday)
Canada vs. Uganda – 2:14pm local time (5:14am ET/2:14am PT on Friday)
Canada vs. South African – 7:53pm local time (10:53am ET/7:53am PT on Friday)