Canada's sevens teams kick off rugby marathon in Sydney

The wait is over for Canadian rugby fans, with a full slate of men’s and women’s Sevens World Series events coming up after being teased with a few tournaments in December.

It’s set to be an entertaining few months of sevens — with July’s World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in addition to a busy World Series schedule — and Canada is in prime position to make an impact.

The women’s team heads into this week’s World Series tournament in Sydney (watch live women’s and men’s action on CBCSports.ca beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. ET) as the defending champs, having won the inaugural event last year. The squad finished fourth at December’s opener in Dubai and captain Ghislaine Landry has high expectations for the rest of the season.

“We are consistently doing enough to be top three, but that’s not good enough,” Landry said. “A few years ago that was the goal, but we don’t set goals to be top three anymore, we want to be the best team.

“Every team is constantly improving and we need to go and play six strong games. Five is no longer enough.”

Seven members of the Canadian roster are holdovers from the bronze-winning side at the 2016 Rio Olympics, including former captain Jen Kish. The 29-year-old announced that she’s retiring after the season.

On the men’s side, Canada sits seventh overall after a fourth-place finish in Cape Town. Although the squad has been consistently improving under head coach Damian McGrath, the team will have to deal with the absences of Connor Braid, Admir Cejvanovic and Liam Underwood for the upcoming two events on the circuit.

“They had a big impact on our success in South Africa, so that’s a big loss for us,” McGrath said.

Underwood is injured, while Braid and Cejvanovic are currently with Canada’s 15s team in preparation for the first leg of its Rugby World Cup qualifier against Uruguay on Jan. 27.

Canadians to watch in Sydney

Men’s stalwart Nathan Hirayama is two tries away from reaching 100 for his career and he’s buoyed by the playmaking abilities of captain Harry Jones and Justin Douglas. For McGrath, consistency will be critical to the team’s success.

“Our game is based on a lack of errors. The less errors we make, the more successful we are,” McGrath said. “We’re working towards improving the little things and improving every day.”

For the women’s team, Julia Greenshields erupted for seven tries in Dubai and Landry consistently ranks among the most proficient players in the world. But the team is hoping for an additional boost when 19-year-old Olivia Apps debuts with the national team.

“Olivia is a tenacious young player,” head coach John Tait said. “She still has a lot of development in her but we want to give her a taste of the Series level and all that goes with it and get a real measure of her there.”

Rosters and schedules for Sydney

Here is the Canadian women’s roster for the Sydney tournament:

  • Olivia Apps (Lindsay, Ont.)
  • Britt Benn (Napanee, Ont.)
  • Caroline Crossley (Victoria, B.C.)
  • Hannah Darling (Warsaw, Ont.)
  • Julia Greenshields (Sarnia, Ont.)
  • Jen Kish (Edmonton, Alta.)
  • Tausani Levale (Abbotsford, B.C.)
  • Ghislaine Landry (Toronto, Ont.)
  • Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ont.)
  • Kayla Moleschi (Williams Lake, B.C.)
  • Breanne Nicholas (Blenheim, Ont.)
  • Natasha Watcham-Roy (Gatineau, Que.)

The Canadian women’s team kicks off its tournament Thursday, with matches against Fiji at 6:22 p.m. ET, Ireland at 9:06 p.m. ET and Russia at 11:28 p.m. ET. All matches will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca.

Here’s the men’s team’s roster:

  • Phil Berna (Vancouver)
  • Jared Douglas (Abbotsford, B.C.)
  • Justin Douglas (Abbotsford, B.C.)
  • Mike Fuailefau (Victoria)
  • Lucas Hammond (Toronto)
  • Nathan Hirayama (Richmond, B.C.)
  • Harry Jones (North Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Isaac Kaay (Kamloops, B.C.)
  • Pat Kay (Duncan, B.C.)
  • Luke McCloskey (Victoria)
  • John Moonlight (Pickering, Ont.)
  • Matt Mullins (Belleville, Ont.)
  • Jake Thiel (Abbotsford, B.C.)

The men’s tournament gets underway early Friday morning with a match against Scotland at 4:34 a.m. ET and continues Saturday against Australia at 1:15 a.m. ET and the United States at 4:26 a.m. ET. All matches will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca.

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