The Pan American Games sevens competition promises to capture the Toronto crowd’s imagination when men and women from the Americas compete for gold on Saturday and Sunday at the EPS-Exhibition Stadium, walking distance from the city’s main street.
Four teams from CONSUR (Confederación Sudamericana de Rugby) and four from NACRA (North America Caribbean Rugby Association) in the men’s competition and three from each regional association in the women’s will compete for medals.
Dating back to 1951, the Pan Am Games are the Americas’ premier sporting event for summer sports, held every four years in the year preceding the Olympic Games. Sevens made its first appearance in Guadalajara, Mexico, four years ago when Canada’s men beat Argentina in the final. This weekend will see the women’s teams make their Pan Am Games debut.
World Rugby Regional General Manager for the Americas, Tom Jones is delighted that sevens will be a key sport in the Games.
“This is rugby sevens’ second participation in the Pan Am Games, following its debut in Guadalajara in 2011. In Toronto there will be, for the first time, women’s and men’s competitions with Canada seeking gold medal glory in both on home soil.
“Rugby sevens’ participation in the Pan Am Games is key to its Olympic family membership, with this tournament a significant pinnacle and preparation for the 2016 Olympics.”
Passionate Canadian crowd
Defending champions Canada will have it harder than four years ago when they took every opportunity in the final to score points and were deserving winners. They enter the Games ranked behind USA and Argentina and ahead of, in order, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Guyana and Mexico.
Playing in a ground previously used for test rugby (it is also known as BMO Field), both Canadian teams are expecting big support. While a handful of men’s regulars are unavailable through 15s commitments in the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2015, the women’s players are confident of being top contenders for the gold medal.
“The whole team is excited to suit up in Toronto and play in front of the passionate Canadian crowd,” admitted Canada captain Jen Kish. “Their support for us around the world has been unbelievable and we can’t wait to see them in Toronto!”
Canada finished as runners-up to New Zealand in the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, winning a first title in the final round in Amsterdam and securing qualification for the sport’s debut at Rio 2016 – becoming Canada’s first team sport to be confirmed for the Games.
The Canadians, though, are not the only women’s side who have confirmed their place at Rio 2016 taking part in the Pan Am Games with hosts Brazil having qualified automatically and Colombia and USA taking their places after safely negotiating the CONSUR and NACRA regional qualifiers last month.
For the Colombians, who narrowly beat Argentina to earn their ticket to Rio 2016, it will be an incredible opportunity to test their rugby outside of their region.
“Being in a multi-sport event such as the Pan Am Games will be a very positive experience ahead of Rio 2016,”said coach Laurent Palau.
Guadalupe López admits “we are a new country in terms of rugby but we are like sponges, absorbing everything, learning with every step. It will be a great adventure and one that we hope will continue to teach us.”
Brazil women’s coach Chris Neill celebrates the opportunity. “It is an honour to play in the first Pan American sevens tournament. We know we are facing in the USA and Canada two of the best teams in the world, but as Brazilians, we’ll fight hard until the end of each game, always giving our best.”
Meanwhile Nicolás Bruzzone, who played in the 2011 Pan Am final, is in an Argentine team with clear goals. “We want to be in the podium, as high as possible, and for that we are working on our game plan, without analysing opponents. We are focused on the task ahead and hungry.”
With four players that played in the nine rounds of the HSBC Sevens World Series that saw USA finish a best ever sixth, the men’s Eagles fly into Toronto as the team to beat. They’ve won their last two tournaments – in London and the 2015 NACRA Sevens that earned them the ticket to Rio 2016.
“The Pan Am Games will also allow us a dry run for what they Olympics will be like from an administrative and planning perspective, and will no doubt provide us with a number of learning experiences,” said USA coach Mike Friday.
“We set our expectations high as a group and we are going to the Games with the intention of competing to try and win the gold medal.”
The men’s teams will be repositioned in their pools after day one on Saturday and will then play across pools in the knockout competition on Sunday, while the women’s teams will be re-seeded after all of the pool matches have been completed on Sunday.
Pan Am Games sevens pools and fixtures
Pool A: USA, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico
Pool B: Argentina, Canada, Brazil, Guyana
Fixtures - 11 July
USA v Chile
Uruguay v Mexico
Argentina v Brazil
Canada v Guyana
USA v Mexico
Uruguay v Chile
Argentina v Guyana
Canada v Brazil
Chile v Mexico
USA v Uruguay
Brazil v Guyana
Argentina v Canada
Canada, USA, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico
Fixtures - 11-12 July
Canada v Colombia
USA v Brazil
Mexico v Argentina
USA v Colombia
Brazil v Argentina
Canada v Mexico
Argentina v USA
Canada v Brazil
Colombia v Mexico
Argentina v Canada
Colombia v Brazil
Mexico v USA
Argentina v Colombia
Brazil v Mexico
Canada v USA
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