The big costume party is almost upon us. Rugby Sevens is back in North America and Canada is busy preparing.
In a week’s time Vancouver will host the annual rugby festival in and around BC Place but before then it is a case of back to the future.
Los Angeles last hosted a World Series Sevens event back in 2006. Fourteen years on, the USA Sevens returns to Carson, Calif., following stops in San Diego and most recently Las Vegas.
It marks the halfway point in an uncertain season. The traditional spring tournaments in Singapore and Hong Kong have already been rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic so for the men there will be a huge 11-week gap after Vancouver.
It is far from ideal for players who are trying to time their preparation to peak at the Olympics. But the organizers are in a no-win situation. World Rugby is merely doing its part to prevent the mass movement of players and fans as the virus continues to spread.
In the meantime, the show must go on.
It may prove to be a positive showcase for the Canadian men. They find themselves in a preliminary pool with a real chance to advance to the Cup quarter-finals. In addition, a key member of the squad is making his comeback in L.A.
Canada has made it to the knock out stages only once this season. It produced a fifth-place finish at the New Zealand Sevens before falling back into the pack in Australia the following week.
Head coach Henry Paul will be targeting an upswing this weekend. His team is in Pool B alongside Ireland, South Africa and Kenya. The South African ‘Blitzboks’ will be the presumptive favourites to win the group but Canada knows second place is up for grabs.
Canadians target wins against Ireland, Kenya
Canada has a 6-2 head-to-head record against the Irish and beat them in Sydney at the start of the month. A winning start to the tournament will set the tone for how far the Canadians can go.
The Canadians also own a winning record over the unpredictable Kenyans. The numbers may provide statistical optimism, but far more important is how Canada will react after the likelihood of a loss to the Blitzboks in game two.
The Canadian cause is considerably strengthened by the return of Justin Douglas. The 25-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., makes his season debut in Los Angeles and his presence has been sorely missed
At his best Douglas is a game changer. He has the strength and confidence to make rampaging runs into opposition territory and his 136 World Sevens tries is ample evidence of his finishing ability.
Douglas, who last played in the London leg in May 2019, will hope his injury issues are now behind him. With four more events ahead of the Olympics he has time to fully reintegrate into the Canadian team and push full steam ahead for Tokyo.
A mouthwatering match up with the old enemy could be on the cards in L.A. If Canada manages to navigate a way out of its group, there’s a good chance it could lock horns with the USA in the elite eight.
The Americans earned their first podium finish of the season in Sydney and have won their own USA Sevens event in each of the last two years. There’s no substitute for home advantage and the U.S. will be focusing on a hat trick of titles on home soil.
It is only fair to allow the Americans to have their fun. After all, the jamboree to come in Vancouver is one to rival any other, anytime, anywhere.