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Team captains pose for a picture at the Olympic cauldron to promote the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Vancouver, B.C., on March 9. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Team captains pose for a picture at the Olympic cauldron to promote the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Vancouver, B.C., on March 9. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Focused on Rio, Canada ready to host World Sevens Series event for first time Add to ...

The Canadian rugby sevens team is of two minds these days.

While the players want to do well in front of their home fans when the HSBC World Sevens Series visits Canada for the first time this weekend, they also have one eye on an even bigger prize.

“I think the highlights for us this year are this tournament and getting to the Olympics,” head coach Liam Middleton said. “Those are two major tournaments. They’re two things we want to peak at.

The inspiring story behind Canada's rugby mascot, Captain Greene (CP Video)

“It’s the elephant in the room. We want to do well here because it’s short-term. But long-term, we really want to get to the Olympics.”

Canada has one last chance to qualify for the Rio Games at a winner-take-all event in Monaco in June, but captain John Moonlight said playing well over the last five World Series events, including Saturday and Sunday at BC Place Stadium, will go a long way in determining their Olympic fate.

Canada finished a disappointing 14th out of 16 teams last weekend in Las Vegas, including a 24-12 loss to Samoa, a side that Middleton’s men could face with that final Olympic spot on the line in a few months. Samoa is currently ranked 11th in the World Series standings, while Canada sits 12th.

The fast-paced seven-on-seven version of rugby is played on a regulation pitch, but games include two seven-minute halves with a one-minute break. It can also be an all-day event for fans – the first of Saturday’s 24 matches kicks off at 9:30 a.m. local time, with the day’s final game set to start just before 7:30 p.m. Sunday will see another 21 matches, including the final.

Canada, which won gold at last summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto, has been drawn into Pool B this weekend with No. 4 Australia, No. 13 Wales and No. 15 Russia.

Top-ranked Fiji is in Pool A with Kenya, Samoa and Portugal, while Pool C features South Africa, Argentina, Scotland and Brazil. Pool D includes New Zealand, the U.S., France and England.

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