Canada’s performances in the opening two men’s tournaments of HSBC SVNS 2024 highlight the brutal reality that there is such a fine line between success and failure at the highest level of rugby sevens.
In Dubai, Canada’s men picked up a solitary point after suffering five straight defeats. But their performances on the whole were better than the results suggest and in Cape Town, the ‘one-percenters’ that had gone against them suddenly fell their way.
A 26-21 loss to the mighty All Blacks Sevens became a 19-7 win in the repeat fixture in Cape Town and against Samoa, who they were paired with again, there was a 50-point swing with a 24-0 defeat avenged by a 33-7 win.
While Australia got the better of them in their remaining pool fixture in Cape Town, those victories earned Canada a Cup quarter-final place.
Righting the wrongs of Dubai
“It was quite an interesting pool in Cape Town, getting Samoa and New Zealand again back to back,” reflects head coach Sean White.
“I think that New Zealand game lingered over us a little bit in Dubai, with us having the lead for the majority of the game.
“New Zealand capitalised on the few errors that we made so having an opportunity to right the wrongs the following week was something that we cherished.
“I don’t think we played particularly well against Samoa in Dubai but we certainly got enough things right in Cape Town to get the win.
“The beauty of the game is that a bounce of the ball, added possession here or there, whether that be a kick off or a penalty, all of those things add up over time and we just have to be at the right place at the right moment to take advantage of them when they come our way.
“In Dubai, we were in seven-point games and I think we were just off the mark a little bit in a few key moments.
“But I think we got enough of those right moments in Cape Town to knock off some quality teams.”
The 2024 HSBC SVNS Series continues at HBF Park in Perth, Australia over January 26 to 28, and Canada’s rosters 🇨🇦🏉 for the third stop of the series have been named by Head Coaches Jack Hanratty and Sean White.#RugbyCA | #OneSquad— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) January 18, 2024
Putting core values into practice
For White, resilience is in the Canadian DNA. They warded off the threat of automatic relegation from the last HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series by reaching the Toulouse semi-finals, when they hadn’t even come close to making the quarter-finals in the previous nine events.
Canada then retained their core team status in dramatic fashion in London a week later, defeating Kenya 12-7 in the final of the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off thanks to a last-minute try by Alex Russell.
“I think it (resilience) has always been a positive for the Canadian team. I think even back to when I was playing it was always the biggest difference for us – how hard we want to work for each other,” says White, who represented his country at sevens and 15s.
“I don’t think that’s any different now, it was quite evident when I first took the assistant coach’s job (in April 2022) and it’s something we have really built on around our core values.
“The challenge we have put to the players this year is how do the core values show up on the field. It’s good to have them written down and believe them but how are they tangible in those high-pressure moments?
“We were down to 10 men going into the French (quarter-final) game after two long weeks and injuries to three players (Phil Berna, Jake Thiel and Dave Richard), yet the players continued to push through.
“We had a couple of backs that were playing in the forwards and we were going through options that we didn’t really train for.
“Thomas Isherwood was going up in the lineout, and we would never normally train with our half-back in the lineout. But when push comes to shove, the willingness of the group to do what was needed to win was very evident.”
Having what it takes to succeed
For the third HSBC SVNS 2024 tournament in Perth, Canada's men have been drawn in Pool A with Argentina, South Africa and Spain.
While Canada are ninth in the standings, Los Pumas Sevens and the Blitzboks are first and second after sharing the first two titles between them.
A big challenge awaits them but Canada will go into the tournament in Perth full of belief.
“I think that’s been the biggest difference – our outlook. It is less based on belief and hope and more on knowledge that we have what it takes to run with the big dogs.
“How often we do that this year, time will tell but we were certainly happy with the results that we had in Cape Town.
“Ultimately, it is our goal to finish in the top eight and, as happy as we are at the moment, the reality is we are ninth and we are not qualified so it is a long road ahead.”