Canadian men one win away from securing Olympic rugby sevens qualification

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Canada blanked Bermuda 53-0 in semifinal play Sunday at the RF Group RAN (Rugby Americas North) Sevens to move within one win of Olympic qualification.

The Canadian men will face either Jamaica or Mexico in the final later Sunday to see who advances to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Adam Zaruba and Pat Kay each scored two tries and Jake Thiel, Cooper Coats, Andrew Coe and Matt Mullins added singles against Bermuda, with a late try coming as time ran out, as Canada registered its fifth win in as many games on the weekend at the regional qualifier at the Truman Bodden National Sports Complex.

Coats and Nate Hirayama combined for four conversions for Canada, which led 22-0 at the break. Josiah Morra had an early chance to add to the scoring but dropped the ball as he crossed the try-line.

Earlier Sunday, Canada ran up a 26-0 lead at halftime en route to dispatching Guyana 47-5 in the quarterfinals. Bermuda moved on by edging Trinidad & Tobago 7-5.

Jamaica beat Barbados 24-10 to advance to its semifinal against Mexico, who beat the Cayman Islands 12-5.

While the tournament winner qualifies for the 2020 Games, the second- and third-place teams will have another opportunity via a last-chance repechage tournament in 2020.

The automatic Olympic qualification of the U.S. — thanks to their second-place finish this season in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series — opened the door for the Canadian men for a first-ever Olympic berth.

But they came to the Caymans with an injury-riddled roster, missing Justin Douglas (ankle), Connor Braid (shoulder), Admir Cejvanovic (hamstring), Lucas Hammond (ankle) and Cole Davis (core).

The Canadian men arrived as the team to beat and they showed why Saturday, blanking Barbados 47-0 before thumping Mexico 49-5 and Bermuda 55-0 in Pool A play.

Jamaica took top honours in Pool B, outscoring Trinidad & Tobago, the Cayman Islands and Guyana 111-12, to set up a quarterfinal matchup with Barbados.

The top four finishers this season on both the men’s and women’s sides of the World Rugby Sevens Series earned automatic Olympic qualification. That meant Fiji, the U.S., New Zealand and South Africa joined host Japan on the men’s side in the 12-country Olympic field.

Canada’s women, bronze medallists at the 2016 Olympics, qualified directly by finishing third overall — along with Series-leading New Zealand, the U.S. and Australia.

The Canadian men finished 11th in the World Series after a roller-coaster year that saw the players sit out two months prior to the start of the 2018-19 season due to a contract dispute with Rugby Canada.

Canada cut through the opposition at the Rio North American qualifier in June 2015, before running into the U.S. in the final in Cary, N.C., where Canada lost 21-5.

The Canadians’ qualifying journey ended in a 14-12 quarterfinal loss to Russia in the Olympic repechage in Monaco, an event Spain won to earn the final berth in the 2016 Rio Games.

Canada has fired two coaches since, with Zimbabwe’s Liam Middleton getting the axe after the Monaco repechage. His replacement, England’s Damian McGrath, was let go in early May.

Henry Paul, a former England sevens player, is running the team in the Olympic qualifier and the Pan American Games later this month. Paul, an assistant to 15s head coach Kingsley Jones, led Canada on the final two stops of the World Series season.

Making the Olympics will be a much-needed boost for Rugby Canada’s bottom line. Own The Podium recommended $6.31 million in funding to the women’s sevens squad in the first three years of the Tokyo quadrennial. The men got $130,000.

The Canadians look to join Argentina, which won the Sudamerica Rugby Sevens, to become the sixth men’s team to confirm its place in Tokyo.

The six-team North American women’s qualifier, also this weekend in the Caymans, is a round-robin featuring the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago.

At the end of the round-robin, the top two teams will meet in the final with the remaining four playing ranking games. With Canada and the U.S. already qualified, the top two will advance to the 2020 women’s repechage tournament.

The Canadian Press

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