Despite playing on home soil, Canada will be in unfamiliar territory this weekend at the North America Caribbean Rugby Association Sevens Championship.
The Twin Elm Rugby Park is the site of the first ever international rugby sevens competition held in Canada, and the stakes for both the men’s and women’s national teams are high.
Entry into the 2013 Rugby Sevens World Cup is the goal for the nations competing this weekend.
“From a men’s perspective, we’re part of a World Series competition and we travel to many cities around the world,” said Canadian coach Geraint John. “For example, in October we go to Brisbane, Australia and in November we go to Dubai and in December we go to South Africa, but we’ve never had an international contest in Canada.
“The players are pretty excited to play on home soil and it’s a good opportunity for family and friends to come out and gives us a chance to promote the game as well.”
The top two sides for the men and the top women’s side will qualify for the World Cup, set for next June in Moscow, Russia.
The completion begins Saturday morning with the Canadian men taking on Bermuda. There are certain to be some nerves on the Canadian side as they play for their country on home soil for the first time.
“Our expectation is to qualify and obviously we have to perform,” said John. “Over the past 12 months we have performed very well and have been fairly successful in tournaments around the world, but you still have to perform on the day. Our aim is to win our pool and keep playing and qualify for the World Cup.”
Canada is the second seed entering the event behind the United States. The Canadians are in Pool B with Mexico, Bermuda and the Bahamas. The U.S., Jamaica and St. Vincent make up Pool A while Pool C has Guyana, Cayman Islands, Barbados as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
Canada plays three games on Saturday before the playoff round begins Sunday.
As for the women’s draw, Canada also plays three round-robin games on Saturday and twice more on Sunday. The top two teams in the six-nation pool meet in the final Sunday afternoon.
Canada is joined in the women’s competition by Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Cayman Islands and Guyana.
“Being a part of this qualifier is a great experience,” said women’s captain Jen Kish, who was born in Ottawa but now resides in Edmonton. “Playing at home is a first for any Canadian Sevens team so it’s sort of history in the making and having the opportunity to captain some young and talented athletes is exceptional.”
Kish says it will also be an opportunity for fans of the sport to see some future Olympians, not just from Canada but from the other nations as well. Sevens rugby will make its Olympic debut in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Women’s coach John Tait is pretty excited with the group that’s been assembled, in spite of some injuries to some key players.
“It’s as strong of an available team as possible,” Tait said. “It’s probably the fastest team we’ve assembled with good speed throughout the group.”
There are 24 games Saturday starting at 9:00 and 23 more Sunday. Sevens rugby has seven players per side and games consist of two seven-minute halves with a two-minute break between.