Canadian rugby men hit Olympic qualifying crunch time

Cover: Conor Trainor (Rugby Canada / Ian Muir)

The Sevens World Series is almost over, but the Canadian men are hitting the most important phase of their Olympic qualifying season.

Captains photo at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum at Scotland Sevens 2015. Photo: World Rugby/Martin Seras Lima

Captains photo at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum at Scotland Sevens 2015. Canada’s captain John Moonlight, middle far right. Photo: World Rugby/Martin Seras Lima

Being one of the top-4 nations to cement Rio 2016 berths from the world series isn’t in the cards for Canada. Even with the optimism of last year’s sixth-place finish, which was an extraordinary accomplishment. After seven of nine stops in 2014-15, Canada is 11th, jumping ahead of Wales in April thanks to a 4th-place finish at Japan Sevens.

Now it’s all about the NACRA Regional Olympic Qualifying Tournament scheduled for June 13-14 in North Carolina, with two world series tourneys before then.

Highlights: Canada gets first-ever win over New Zealand

First, Scotland Sevens May 9-10

As finalists in 2014, Glasgow resonates as a place of success for Canada. The red and white fell 54-7 to the All Blacks in the final. Big news for Canada is the season debut of 27-year-old Nathan Hirayama, fourth in all-time Canadian scoring, and returning from shoulder issues. Here’s the remaining roster, captained by John Moonlight. Notably, Canada is in a pool with sixth-ranked USA, Argentina in eighth and the 15th-ranked Japanese. They open the tournament against the USA on Saturday, May 9th at 5:30 am ET. Notable because…

NACRA Olympic Qualifiers up next

Well, there’s England Sevens in London May 16-17 to close that season but then it’s really crunch time. Of the six regional qualifiers, Canada will be at the North American Caribbean Rugby Association version held Jun 13-14 and must win to go to Rio 2016. The big competition: the USA. The Canadians and Americans have almost switched spots this season, with the USA currently sitting 6th overall in world series points. (Last year they finished 11th). It was always likely Canada would battle for their Olympic spot here, now against an American side playing well.

Canada competing with the US for a spot on the world stage isn’t new, it happened for Rugby World Cup 2015:

How Canada’s Rugby Sevens can be one of 12 teams at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games:

  1. Finish top four in the Sevens Series. The men have nine stops. The women have six. Both series end in May 2015
  2. Win the regional qualifier. For Canada this is the North America and Caribbean (NACRA) Regional Association Sevens Championship. It takes place June 13-14 in North Carolina.
  3. Win the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament. With 10 teams in and one spot given to the host nation Brazil, that leaves a single spot for the winner of the final tournament. Getting here depends on placement at the regional championships.

The women are sitting second in their series, in a tight race to be top-4. Their next tournament is England Women’s Sevens May 15-16.