Sean Duke makes his return to the Canada men's sevens team for the first time in over three years as they chase a third consecutive gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima this weekend.
Duke and Nathan Hirayama were involved in both previous wins in Guadalajara in 2011 and Toronto in 2015, while captain Harry Jones and Admir Cejvanovic return from four years ago.
With Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020 recently secured thanks to Canada winning the Rugby Americas North title, Duke has decided to come out of retirement and will play in his first tournament since the Vancouver Sevens in March 2016.
Hungry for more
“We’re incredibly excited to compete at the Pan-Ams, especially off the back of our Olympic qualifier,” said men’s head coach Henry Paul. “We’re coming in defending champions and the boys are hungry. This is a great opportunity to keep building on our systems and go up against some great competition.”
In Argentina and Jamaica, Canada will be up against teams hellbent on revenge in Pool B. Los Pumas Sevens were defeated in both the previous finals, while Canada's 40-5 win over Jamaica in the Rugby Americas North final sent them on the direct route to Tokyo instead of the Reggae Crocs, who have one more chance to qualify through the global repechage tournament next year.
Los Pumas Sevens coach Santiago Gómez Cora returns to the Games with the sole goal of winning gold. He has selected his strongest squad, one brimming with talent and experience at the Series.
“We have one clear goal and that is to win the Pan American Gold,” he said. To that purpose, his squad spent a week training in Brazil. “It was really helpful as it allowed us to focus on the task ahead in good weather.”
Uruguay, who include two players with Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 experience in Eugenio Plottier and Diego Ardao complete the line-up in Pool B.
The men's US Eagles Sevens, who came so close to winning their maiden HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title this season only to lose out to Fiji, head to Lima with a new-look side containing six debutants.
“Our Pan Am squad is excited to continue on the overwhelming success of the sevens programme as a whole,” said JD Stephenson, who will coach the team this weekend in place of Mike Friday.
“Automatic qualification for both our men’s and women’s programmes is a tough act to follow, but the group selected is hungry for an opportunity to impress against some of the world’s best. The selection committee has picked a squad that represents our Tokyo 2020 hopefuls, but also those who could be pivotal in our success working towards 2024.”
The recent form of Brazil and Chile won't have gone unnoticed by the USA, while Guyana will look to spring a surprise as the underdogs in Pool A.
2015 heroes return
Women Sevens was brought into the Pan Am Games in Toronto 2015, in a six-team, round-robin tournament, and the home team did not disappoint. Led by the charismatic Jen Kish, they scored 286 points in six games at the BMO Field, a punt away from the shores of Lake Ontario.
Only the USA managed to score tries against them; three in two matches which were still won by handsome scores – 34-12 and 55-7 in the final.
Only Kayla Moleschi and Sara Kaljuvee return to the team that heads up Pool B in an expanded tournament, with four teams each from Sudamérica Rugby and Rugby Americas North taking part. They will play Mexico on Friday, followed by games against Peru and Brazil on Saturday.
“We’ve got a great mix of talent on this Pan American Games team,” said head coach and former Canadian captain Morgan Williams. “We have some exciting up-and-coming talent as well as some experienced world series veterans. This will be a great opportunity for exposure and experience on a big stage, especially as we look to build to Tokyo 2020.”
Peruvian rugby will take a lot out of the Pan Am Games. Part of the legacy will be the 2,500-spectator stadium at Villa María del Triunfo, complete with an artificial playing surface.
Preparation for the Peruvian women has been intense and has included hosting Brazil and Argentina in recent months as well as having a test-event at the tournament venue.
“We fully understand that this tournament is the most important in our sporting career and for this, we’ve been preparing very hard for quite some time,” says captain Rosemary Quesada Guzmán. “As amateurs, we trained twice a day, three times a week in able to be at our best for the Games.”
Faced with the daunting prospect of coming up against multiple regional champions Brazil and defending champions Canada, as well as Mexico in Pool B, Peru’s goal is clear: “We want to be able to apply everything that we’ve worked on in the matches. Playing at home is huge motivation and a medal is in our sights but must focus game by game," adds Guzmán.
Pool A consists of Colombia, Argentina, USA and Trinidad & Tobago.
Matches will be played over three rounds and rugby sevens will be the first team sport to award medals. Demand for tickets has been high, reflecting the growing popularity of the game in Peru.
Click HERE to keep up to date with all the latest results from Lima.