The new season of the IRB Sevens circuit kicks off in the Gold Coast tonight, and with Olympic qualification on the menu it promises to be the toughest yet. After an impressive 6th place finish overall last year Canada have made the team a priority over the competing ARC tournament in Langford, selecting several players who might otherwise be playing XVs. How this will effect selections heading into the November tour and a World Cup year is anyone’s guess, but it’s going to be complicated.
One person who won’t be with the team is Geraint John. After guiding the Tier 2 side to such a strong finish the Welshman has jumped at an opportunity to head up the Australian program, who he took charge of ahead of the Commonwealth Games this past July. Former Zimbabwe head coach Liam Middleton is the new man in charge, but he won’t be there either, still tied up with bureaucractic red tape, so it’s up to stand-in Ben Herring to lead the team down under. The New Zealander shouldn’t be overawed with the task given his previous experience as a professional player with both the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership.
The squad itself is absent several stars through injury, first and foremost dream team member Phil Mack and leading scorer Nathan Hirayama. With Sean White also out and Taylor Paris unavailable with club duties in France, it will be down to Lucas Hammond and Harry Jones to take over the playmaker duties. Speedster Jake Webster and stalwart Ciaran Hearn, who will start at centre, will likely provide cover.
Mike Scholz is still sidelined and Nanyak Dala is with the the ARC squad, so there are two new caps up front in Jack Smith and Adam Zaruba. Smith is a pacy flanker with exceptional fitness who has excelled at the national u20 level, while Zaruba is a giant of a man whose own speed has seen him moved from the tight five to the wing over the past year. At 196cm (6’5”) and 120kg (265lbs) he will draw plenty of eyes as the biggest man in the tournament.
The captaincy has again gone to Canada’s other dream team selection, John Moonlight, and he will also have regulars Sean Duke and Conor Trainor to add experience. At the age of 20, Justin Douglas has already played 13 tournaments and will also be an important figure. Mike Fuailefau and Jordan Wilson-Ross round out the roster and with both offering a good mix of speed and power while being able to play multiple roles.
Canada were somewhat of a surprise package last season but, as coach Herring has correctly pointed out, they won’t be taken as lightly this year. That said every side, with a couple exceptions, looks to have strengthened since and there will be no easy matches. First up will be the Eagles, which should prove a useful barometer to see how the stand-ins stack up. After that it’s Argentina and England. The race to Rio starts now, and it’s anyone’s guess how it ends.
DAY 1 FIXTURES:
17:12 PST – vs United States
20:13 PST – vs Argentina
23:29 PST – vs England
LIVE STREAM: http://www.irbsevens.com/liveblog/blogid=1902.html