Twenty-four teams – 14 in the men’s competition and 10 in the women’s – will contest this weekend’s Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens Championship in Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago with competition set to be fierce as places in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2017-18 men's and women's qualifiers are up for grabs.
The two best-placed men's teams outside of Canada will book their places in Hong Kong for that series qualifier in April, while the best-placed women's side, excluding Olympic bronze medallists Canada, will also have a chance to compete for a core team place on the world series.
As a core team, Canada will play in every round of the 2016-17 series but nevertheless, they have sent a strong men’s team to the Caribbean as they look to go one better than last year and win the region’s premier international sevens title.
USA beat Canada 21-5 in the 2015 final and, thus, it was the Eagles who automatically qualified for the men’s rugby sevens competition at the Olympic Games. Canada had one final opportunity to make it to Rio 2016 via the repechage, but the chance passed them by and it was unheralded Spain who took the last ticket instead.
Canada have sent what is effectively a first-choice squad to Port of Spain with stalwarts such as captain John Moonlight, star playmaker Nathan Hirayama and the versatile Harry Jones (main picture) named in Damian McGrath’s first squad as Canada men’s sevens head coach.
Five of the Mexico team that helped Las Serpenties to the Rugby Americas North 15s title figure in Ruben Duque’s squad, including powerhouse wing Fharid Samano, who stands 1.94m tall and weighs 108kg, and prolific try-scoring back-rower Gonzalo Pons.
The Cayman Islands team has been attracting attention too, as possible contenders for the RAN Sevens title, after impressing in Hong Kong in the 2016-17 series qualifier earlier this year.
The men’s teams have been divided into four pools, with three teams in Pools A and B and four apiece in Pools C and D.
Canada have been drawn alongside the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda in Pool A, while Pool B consists of Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Cayman Islands face games against Barbados, Curacao and the Dominican Republic in Pool C, while Pool D features Guyana, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos Islands and Martinique.
CANADIAN WOMEN LOOK TO THE FUTURE
In contrast to the men, Canada’s women’s have selected a squad unrecognisable from the one that claimed the bronze medal at Great Britain’s expense in Rio.
Breanne Nicholas will act as captain as one of only two players with senior experience, the other being 18-year-old Caroline Crossley.
Canada will play four matches in the pool stages, facing off in Pool A against Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos on day one, with an early morning match against Jamaica on day two.
Defending women’s champions Guyana are in Pool B alongside Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
“The annual RAN Sevens is one of our region’s flagship tournaments,” said RAN tournament director and general manager Niall Brooks. “Attracting the vast majority of the region’s teams, we look forward to the high level of competition. This year there is also added incentive as the top two men’s teams and the top women’s team will earn a spot in the 2017 Hong Kong Sevens (qualifier) tournament.”
World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby mass participation programme will run rugby-based activities alongside the family-friendly event at St. Mary’s College's CIC sports ground.
All matches will be streamed live on www.rugbyamericasnorth.com. Follow @RugbyAmericasN on Twitter for live scores and tournament updates, or visit the event page at www.rugbyamericasnorth.com/ran7s. Join the conversation using #RAN7s.