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Canada's Charity Williams, left and Asia Hogan-Rochester celebrate with teammates after defeating Australia for the bronze medal in Vancouver, on Feb. 25.ETHAN CAIRNS/The Canadian Press

Thoughts of a hot French summer seemed a long way off on a damp, dreary February weekend in Vancouver, but roared on by a stadium full of oompa-loompas, lumberjacks, and a squadron of Star Trek fleet commanders, a couple of Olympic stars in the making were put through their paces.

As tradition dictates, rugby fans let their imaginations run wild when it came to game-day attire at the Canada Sevens. For France’s Antoine Dupont and Canada’s Sophie de Goede, however, the fervent dreaming has been fixated on the medal podium in Paris while juggling their respective roles as captains of their countries’ 15-a-side rugby-union teams.

Arguably one of the greatest players of his generation, Dupont shocked the sport last fall by declaring he would sit out the ongoing Six Nations championship to focus on the seven-a-side game. Coming off a disappointing quarter-final exit at last October’s Rugby World Cup in France, Dupont is now set to be one of the faces of a home Olympics as he attempts to help his country better its silver-medal finish in rugby the previous time the Games were held in Paris, 100 years ago.

The Vancouver stop on the HSBC SVNS tour, a 12-team, eight-country global series, was Dupont’s competitive sevens debut. True to form, the former world 15s player of the year didn’t disappoint, producing numerous eye-catching moments in helping France to a bronze medal for its best result of the season through four tour stops.

Argentina, the top-ranked men’s team in the world this season, romped past New Zealand 36-12 to win its third consecutive Canada Sevens title. The Canadian men finished last for the third time in four tournaments.

The Canadian women beat Australia 19-14 to claim bronze, their best finish of the season, while New Zealand, the Olympic defending champions, rolled France 35-19 to win the women’s gold medal.

Coming mostly off the bench, Dupont scored three times in his six appearances, including a thrilling match-winning try as time expired in Saturday’s quarter-final win over Ireland. The French rugby icon said he would “remain humble” as he gets up to speed with his new endeavour.

“This is a learning process for him and this is all about him building up towards the summer where I think we could see him having a big impact on the game,” said Nathan Hirayama, who switched back and forth between 15s and sevens, ultimately becoming Canada’s leading point and appearance leader in the latter.

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France's Antoine Dupont scores a try against the U.S.DON MACKINNON/Getty Images

“But there are the nuances. If you’re one step out of position defensively, it doesn’t matter how good of a defender you are or how quick you are, you could be letting your team down.”

On the home front, de Goede continued her own climb toward Paris, a journey she began last May when she made her sevens debut.

Like Dupont, the Victoria-born de Goede mostly came off the bench throughout the tournament, but the experience represented a chance to make progress in an unfamiliar undertaking.

“Every time I come back, it’s a bit different,” she said. “So I was here with us during the summer but then I went back into the 15s environment with our national team and then playing overseas in the U.K. with Saracens so I’ve only been back with the sevens for about two weeks now and it’s definitely an adjustment.”

Her rugby bona fides have long been beyond reproach, having been nominated for the World Rugby women’s 15s player of the year in 2022. But while speed and power are beneficial cross-over tools, some other facets can prove unfamiliar.

“There’s a lot of false gaps,” she said. “So a gap that in 15s I’d be like, ‘Well, I’m running right through that’ is actually going to get covered pretty quickly on the sevens field because there’s so much space. You’ve really got to pick and choose your moments and just be a bit more patient.”

That space, and the ability to exploit it, is one of the keys to success in sevens. The three tries that Dupont scored in the tournament were testament to that, particularly his first score against Australia, when the Frenchman dummied a pass to the outside before powering through the gap as his defender committed to an off-load that never materialized.

“You see holes all over the place, but you have to respect the game principle and the strategy,” he said through a translator. “But when we see a space you have to run inside so you have to balance making other players play and try it and this time I saw a space and I tried it.”

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Canada's Sophie De Goede tackles Great Britain's Abi Burton.ETHAN CAIRNS/The Canadian Press

The extra space also adds a vital wrinkle to the defensive side of the game, too. Unlike in the 15-a-side game, the opportunity to gang-tackle opponents presents itself far more infrequently, so players have to be confident in their own ability to bring down an opponent.

“It just feels like you’re all alone on an island, a lot of one versus ones …” said Canadian winger Josiah Morra, who scored three tries in the tournament. “In 15s there’s always someone that’s going to be there on your insides [to help you] and there’s a lot more players of course.”

Jack Hanratty, the head coach of the Canadian women’s sevens team, has had experience coaching in both versions of rugby, having worked with the women’s 15s team as well. He says that going from 15s to sevens can be a hard transition.

“Sophie here is used to playing 80 minutes for the 15s team, but she might play two minutes with us,” Hanratty said. “... What we [say is] the sevens is all about Instagram moments, but the jobs that Sophie does probably don’t make the highlight reel like her job in 15s and I think that’s the easiest way to summarize it.”

De Goede and Canada will now turn their attention to the next tour stop in Los Angeles this weekend, with just four more sevens tournaments left before the Olympics begin in late July. And while she may have a head start on Dupont on their Olympic sevens journey, de Goede said her fellow crossover will be just fine.

“I’m sure he has enough people giving him advice so I’ll let him handle that for himself,” she said. “If he has any advice for me, I’ll take it.”

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