Seven men’s teams and five women’s will compete for direct qualification to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games at the Rugby Americas North Sevens, which gets underway on Vancouver Island in Canada this weekend.
This year’s RAN Sevens doubles up as the regional qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and the winner of the respective tournaments will become the eighth team to confirm their place in next year’s line-up.
In the men’s event, USA, Mexico and Bermuda are in Pool A, while hosts Canada are joined in Pool B by 2019 runners-up Jamaica, Barbados and St Vincent & The Grenadines.
The women take part in a round-robin competition that involves Canada after they failed to make it to Paris 2024 via the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Jamaica, Mexico, St Vincent & The Grenadines, and St Lucia.
All matches will be played at the 6,000-capacity Starlight Stadium.
The Langford tournament is one of six regional Olympic qualifiers. Uruguay and Ireland have already won their men's regional events, while Brazil and Britain have won their way to Paris via their regional women's competitions.
“We’re in a good spot.” – Phil Berna
Having USA in this year’s competition makes the Canadian men’s team’s job that much harder but they go into the RAN Sevens buoyed by their performance in London in May.
Led by Phil Berna, Canada competed with three other teams – Uruguay, Kenya and Tonga – in a relegation play-off tournament and after a tense weekend at Twickenham, Canada secured their place in HSBC SVNS 2024 with a dramatic, last-gasp 12-7 win against Kenya.
“We’ve got a big weekend but it’s been a big year. We’ve been put in a few crunch-time situations with the tournament in London and now we’ve got this one-off qualifier,” said Berna.
“I think we are peaking right now with our fourth place in Toulouse and getting the job done in a high-pressure situation in London was massive for our team.
“We’re in a good spot.”
Now that Josiah Morra has been ruled out of the RAN Sevens, Berna and Cooper Coats are the only two players left in the squad to have experienced the Olympics before, in the behind-closed-doors event in Tokyo last year.
“It was definitely an achievement to be on the squad but if I could have done it differently, I probably would have. It would have been great to have had fans there and friends and family who had all originally planned to go over but had to cancel their plans at the last minute.
“We have a really good group so to share it with them would be great.”
All eyes on USA
In 2019, Canada beat Jamaica to the prize of Olympic qualification with victory in the final in the Cayman Islands.
This time everyone is tipping it to be a straight shootout between Canada and their main rivals, USA, who find themselves in regional qualification after failing to make automatic qualification after a 10th-place finish.
“We’re not putting too much stake in that (USA finishing 10th on the 2023 Series). They're a bunch of athletes and will definitely show up on the day," said Berna.
“It’s always a good battle when we come together and it’ll be good to do it at home this time, to get that home crowd support, the eighth man, that’s what I am hearing the fans are calling themselves.
“It should be a packed-out stadium, I know all the boys have got a lot of friends and family flying in," he added.
“We are excited and that (USA) is the game we have been previewing the most. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves but we know we are going to cross paths at some point.”
While Canada hope to complete a successful finish to the season under new head coach Sean White, USA need to find some form and inspiration.
Perry Baker is back and buzzing
The Men’s Sevens Eagles are boosted, though, by the return of two key performers from injury.
Now recovered from a back complaint, Rio Olympian Ben Pinkelman rejoins the squad for the first time since 2021, while Perry Baker, who sat out the World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 finale tournament, is back to full health following shoulder surgery and will make an appearance in Langford.
"We are very much looking forward to the challenge at the home of Canada Rugby this coming weekend in Langford," said head coach Mike Friday.
“We have all made personal sacrifices for this mission and have prepared well these last 12 weeks as a group. For the first time since Dubai, we are also able to have a full squad to select from.
“I am extremely pleased with the players' attitude and commitment to the mission. We have worked extremely hard to be physically prepared for the challenge and as a group worked hard daily on our skills, decision making and tactical acumen under pressure and fatigue.
“I am excited to see the boys perform this weekend as they strive to play our game accurately with a sense of collective enjoyment and responsibility to punch the ticket to Paris."
Canada women hope for crowd-pleasing result
With the USA’s women already qualified for Paris 2024, Canada are the standout candidates to win their event.
A strong-looking squad features seven players who were part of Canada's 15s team at the recent Pacific Four Series in Ottawa – captain Olivia Apps, Florence Symonds, Fancy Bermudez, Alysha Corrigan, Maddy Grant, vice-captain Justine Pelletier and captain Sophie de Goede. Pelletiermwill make her international sevens debut in Langford.
The Canadian women, who won bronze in 2016 in Rio, qualified for Tokyo by finishing third overall in the season standings. Apps, Breanne Nicholas and Julia Greenshields represented them there.
“We have been building as a group and are anxious to show our home supporters what we’ve got,” said squad member Krissy Scurfield.