It is official. Canada is running on empty.
There are only fumes left in the tank but the journey is not over.
It was inevitable. When it finally happened it looked and felt ugly. On the biggest Sevens stage of the season, Canada capitulated.
The coach knew it was coming. Damian McGrath was forced to concede, “our lack of preseason caught up with us, but there are no excuses.”
He’s right. There are no excuses but there are reasons. What happened in Hong Kong was an embarrassment to Canadian rugby and an absence of proper preparation will always come back to bite you.
In sport, as in life, you get what you pay for. If you want the best, it is expensive but the investment is worthwhile when the hard work pays off, translating into success on the field.
Investment is a two-way street. Elite athletes must immerse themselves, body and soul. There are no half measures. Talent only gets you so far; sheer grind, mental and physical preparation and personal sacrifice make the difference.
Investment must also come from the top. Governing bodies are there to promote their sport and support their athletes. Unfortunately, the well documented civil war between Rugby Canada and its men’s sevens team has come home to roost.
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Two weeks preparation for a gruelling seven month, 10-stop tour was never going to cut it. The consequences are plain for all to see. It is a long way back from last place.
There are still three events remaining. This weekend the circuit moves on to Singapore, the site of Canada’s most famous Sevens moment. In the Spring of 2017, the Canadians finally planted their flag on top of the world, winning the Singapore Sevens.
The triumph was no fluke. Canada overcame Sevens heavyweights New Zealand and England en route to the final. It then had to hold its nerve to outlast the Americans in a thrilling championship game.
Barely a month later, the Canadians were back on the podium. In the season finale they beat the U.S. again to claim a bronze medal in London. The future of Canadian Sevens rugby seemed assured and the prospects were bright.
Canada has never again made the podium.
Ironically, the Americans have made giant strides forward to lead the World Series standings and are in position to lock up an Olympic berth with the right combination of results in Singapore.
American planning pays off
The Americans recently launched a full-time residency program for its players at the U.S. Olympic training site in California. There are also places for its leading academy players, yet to make their national team debuts.
McGrath noted the announcement with a heavy dose of English sarcasm.
“We can only dream” he tweeted at the time.
While Canadians were bickering about the very relevance of Sevens rugby itself, the Americans were planning for Tokyo 2020.
So to Singapore – where Olympic dreams may become reality. In addition to the U.S., Fiji and New Zealand could also punch their tickets to Japan. Only the top four in the World Series standings get there as of right, and Canada potentially faces two of them in the pool stages.
The Canadians kick off against Fiji – fresh off their win in Hong Kong and the defending champions in Singapore. Then it’s another tough examination against South Africa. The Blitzboks are desperate to hang onto their top-four place and cannot afford any mistakes in the preliminaries.
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Canada will continue to show up and do its best. Its ongoing battle for meagre points should be enough to avoid the real relegation dogfight, and once in a while it will get us off our sofas with a performance that restores our faith in Canadian talent.
As is tradition, Harry Jones posed with the Singapore Sevens trophy for the pre tournament captains’ photo alongside his 15 international counterparts.
Sadly, that’s as close as Jones, or any other Canadian, will get to the silverware he and his teammates hoisted in triumph two years ago.