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Canada's Kelly Russell runs in for a try as Great Britain's Katy McLean attempts to tackle her during the bronze medal match in women's rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canada's Kelly Russell runs in for a try as Great Britain's Katy McLean attempts to tackle her during the bronze medal match in women's rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada’s women’s rugby team set sights on Tokyo, men play long game Add to ...

When the World Rugby Sevens Series season begins in Dubai in early December, the prospects for Canada’s women’s and men’s teams are starkly different: The women are once again one of the world’s best while the men aim to rally from a low.

The Sevens Series runs through the winter and spring. There are 10 tournaments on the men’s calendar and six on the women’s. Canada holds one of each: the men in Vancouver in March and the women near Victoria in May.

Canada’s women are coming off a bronze medal at the Olympics debut of rugby sevens in Rio de Janeiro.

This season marks the start of the road to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, with the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, along the way.

The immediate priority is re-building the depth of the overall team roster and solidifying a new leadership group. Of the 25 players training at Rugby Canada facilities in the Victoria suburbs, about 10 are unlikely to play in Sevens Series matches for at least a year. Depth is key in a sport where injuries can be rampant.

At the top of the roster, prolific scorer Ghislaine Landry is the team’s new captain, taking over from Jen Kish, who is looking toward retirement. Landry, Bianca Farella and Kayla Moleschi will form the core of the team over the next four years.

On the field this season, coach John Tait also wants to develop players’ skills at a variety of positions, so he can exploit mismatches against top teams in the future.

“The women’s game is following the same trend as the men’s. It’s getting stronger and faster every year,” Tait said.

In the four years of the women’s Sevens Series, Canada has been third three times (2012-13, 2013-14 and 2015-16), and second once (2014-15). New Zealand and Australia have been the dominant teams, and Australia won gold over New Zealand at the Olympics.

Canada has won two Sevens Series tournaments, at the end of 2014-15 and again at the end of 2015-16.

Heading into last season, and looking toward the Olympics, Canada wanted to make a push for first over all in the Sevens Series – but a spate of injuries before the season began undermined that goal.

This year, a push for No. 1 in the Sevens Series is less important than longer-term plans to develop depth, strategy and new leaders. The biggest events remain the key goal, with the team receiving about $1.94-million for 2016-17 through Own The Podium.

It’s all about pushing toward another Olympic medal in 2020.

On the men’s side, the Olympics is a more distant goal.

Canada’s men are back to where they were early in the 2010s, outside the top 10.

In between, there was a two-season surge. In 2013-14, Canada was sixth over all, and John Moonlight was selected as one of Sevens Series all-stars. Canada slipped to ninth in 2014-15 and in 2015-16 was down to 13th. During the slide, injuries hurt, but Canada also didn’t keep up with the increased speed and skill of the game.

Rugby Canada had thought the men were good enough to make it Rio and changed coaches when the team fell short.

Damian McGrath, the new coach, looks to lead a revival. Last season, the Englishman coached Samoa, which almost secured an Olympics berth. Samoa finished ninth in the Sevens Series last season and won one tournament. But not making the Olympics led to McGrath being fired. He quickly found work in Canada.

McGrath sees Canada back in the top 10 this season.

“I’m not saying we’ll reach the giddy heights of sixth in the near future, but we’ll certainly be better than 13th,” McGrath said.

The 2016 Olympics had been a personal goal for Moonlight, the team’s captain. Now, turning 30 next July, he’s not sure he’ll still be playing in four years – but he calls 2020 “the next goal.”

“I’m going to play as long as I can,” Moonlight said.

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