The road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games stops off in George Town in the Cayman Islands this weekend with the Rugby Americas North (RAN) regional qualifier taking place at the Truman Bodden National Sports Complex.
Eight men's teams and six women's teams will take part in the RAN Sevens over two days with Canada strong favourites to claim the men's title and Mexico bidding for a third women's crown in a row.
The men's teams are split into two pools with Canada joined in Pool A by Bermuda, Mexico and Barbados. Pool B features Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and hosts the Cayman Islands.
Canada failed to qualify for Rio 2016 when sevens made its debut on the Olympic stage, having lost to Russia in the quarter-finals of the repechage in Monaco.
With a squad packed full of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series experience from the likes of Nathan Hirayama (pictured), Harry Jones, Isaac Kaay, Pat Kay, Mike Fuailefau, Matt Mullins and Adam Zaruba, Canada are determined to win the Rugby Americas North qualifier to book their place at Tokyo 2020 and avoid another last-place shootout in the repechage next year.
“We're all really focused heading into this tournament. There's a lot of good energy in the squad right now but we know we have a job to do,” said interim Canada coach Henry Paul.
“We have seen some exciting attacking rugby from this group, but I think there is more that we are capable of producing. There's a lot of experience, talent, and drive here with a couple younger guys that are an exciting addition. We've been working hard these past couple of weeks to get ourselves ready on every level and I think it'll show in our performance.”
In the women's competition, top seeds Mexico will be joined by the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago in a round-robin format across Saturday and Sunday before the final ranking matches.
With USA and Canada having secured their qualification for Tokyo 2020 last month after finishing second and third respectively in the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2019, there will be no direct women's qualifier from the Rugby Americas North region. Instead the top two nations will take their place in the global repechage tournament next year, from which two teams will claim the final tickets to Japan.
Mexico beat Trinidad and Tobago 15-10 to win the 2018 title in a year that also saw them make their Rugby World Cup Sevens debut in San Francisco and first appearance on the world series as the invitational team in Glendale, Colorado, last October.
They will be favourites to contest a third successive final – and therefore confirm their places to represent Rugby Americas North in the global repechage – but St Lucia and Jamaica have shown improvement in recent times and have
Six men's and six women's teams have already confirmed their places at Tokyo 2020, where the men's competition will run from 27-29 July, followed by the women's from 30 July to 1 August.
Hosts Japan have qualified their men's and women's teams with Argentina's men and Brazil's women the first of the regional qualifiers to book their tickets last month. Fiji, USA, New Zealand and South Africa finished in the top four of the men's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 to confirm their places, as did New Zealand, USA, Canada and Rio 2016 Olympic champions Australia via the women's series.
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