Review of Sydney Sevens and Questions Asked About Player Management and Development Policy in 7s and XVs
by BCRN national team correspondent
It has been some time since Canada was in a pool where all but one team were behind them in the overall HSBC Sevens Standings - and Australia is a meager one point ahead of us.
This will be the first of two trips to Australia this season with the Commonwealth Games kicking off in early April.
The Canada selection was posted on January 17th after an afternoon training session at the University of Victoria against the Vikes Sevens Team - and the coach made it clear in his press announcement that the team had been struggling for realistic numbers at training because of injuries to several of his players – hence the visit to the university for a extended game and run-out prior to departure.
On paper this selection is a strong one and the best available (‘available’ being the key word) - but the absence of Underwood, Braid and Cejvanovic is significant and leaves a gap in the experienced core of the team.
John Moonlight has now been capped an amazing 67 times for his country; Nate Hirayama is no less impressive with 64 caps; Mike Fuailefau is at 45 caps; Justin Douglas has reached 44 caps and Lucas Hammond is at 41 caps after the Hamilton tournament concludes.
Joining the team for his first trip is youngster Jake Thiel – son of former professional and international Canadian prop Jon Thiel.
In fact - in 2004 Jon Thiel played in a sevens tournament for Canada at the London Sevens after three injuries occurred the weekend before at the Cardiff tournament. Thiel was playing professionally in Wales at the time and volunteered his services to the depleted Canada side. And now things have gone full circle as his son steps into the international arena at the highest possible level.
Canada left early for Sydney which is always a sensible decision given the length of the flight and the physical adjustments needed upon arrival.
Canada 5 v Scotland 52
Canada 5 v Australia 27
Canada 19 v United States 40
Canada 7 v 14 Samoa
Canada 31 v 14 PNG
Canada 14 v 12 Scotland
In review – it must be said that this tournament was not a success.
However - in this day and age everyone wants to pick up on the positives - almost to the exclusion of the things that went wrong and need fixing.
When all is said and done it’s the results that count and after last season when everything was tallied up on the HSBC Sevens score sheets in June you’d have to say the Canada Sevens Team had recovered (from the “Middleton mess”) and was in a pretty positive place.
Fast forward to Sydney, Australia in 2018 and once again the results, like earlier in the season at Dubai, were not forthcoming to the disappointment of everyone.
And then fast on the heels of the discouragement in Sydney – our fifteens team loses the first game of the RWC Qualifier in Vancouver in front of a home crowd.
It all adds up to some significant questions that could or should be asked about the overall program at the union offices in Langford.
For the sevens team – with Underwood already injured was it wise to release Braid and Cejvanovic from the sevens program – the games are completely different in style and intent - remembering too that Cejvanovic did not even start in Vancouver and while Braid looked confident he was lost to his team after 25 minutes or so minutes to injury?
Is the isolation from playing competitive rugby (since Cape Town) a good policy?
Should there be a policy of crossover for players between the sevens and fifteens programs?
For our women the picture is much clearer as there is (sadly) little international fifteens activity during the year – plus it would seem that the results in both programs support the premise that exclusivity works just fine at the moment. Our Sevens Team is third in the world presently and our fifteens team is fourth in the rankings having lost only one game in Ireland at the last RWC.
For the men’s Fifteens Program the question is not so clear it would seem – extensive training (or over training some have suggested) and not playing competitive rugby is not good policy. And the proof would seem to be that too many players are breaking down during long extensive training sessions out in Langford and not even playing any games.
Some Victoria based players training at Langford and receiving small amounts of money from RC return to their clubs late Thursday having endured a frightful week of ‘grinding’ out in Langford – it is a system which remains unpopular with the clubs and desperately needs revision.
It is a fact that for both programs – many of the top domestic players in Canada are students at university on the west coast but there are many other elite players at universities in eastern Canada too as was evident in the latest national championships – for all student athletes attending school (and classes) which leads to a degree it is the reason for being at university. Obviously residing at the high performance centre in Langford is not appropriate for these student athletes and a better way has to be found to incorporate these players.
It is further a fact that there are many other players in eastern Canada not at university that would benefit Canada’s program but for reasons of work or family etc - they are unable to move west and these players appear to be excluded from the ‘mix’ which is not a good development model.
So maybe the question has to be asked – are we doing the right thing day in and day out at the Langford facility and across the country as a whole?
It is always good to review the process realistically and address the difficult questions.
Many have suggested that other training centres should be in place across the country where players come and develop their skills. And make no mistake – Ontario is a hotbed of talented players with their vast population base.
But there are good players everywhere across Canada who cannot reside or move to the west coast - so is there a frailty in our model and in our approach?
Maybe it’s time for the coaching development staff to travel to the players instead of the other way round?
And finally - isn’t it time to have a high performance director on staff to oversee all programs to ensure our present model is correct? Obviously something needs to be done!
Nevertheless – despite the slightly ‘off-topic’ review from the Sydney Sevens this week our team moves onto Hamilton, New Zealand for the next tournament.
Also congratulations to Nathan Hirayama on his monumental accomplishment of 100 tries on the HSBC Sevens circuit – an amazing record – well done Nate!
As well - good luck to our fifteens program as they head to the southern latitudes this coming week for another encounter with Uruguay.
There will be plenty of commentary about the result at BC Place Stadium but the voice of sensibility seems to have come from the interview with the Falcon’s Evan Olmstead – good fortune down south boys!
Canada Selection - Sydney
Phil Berna – UBC Thunderbirds (Vancouver, BC)
Jared Douglas – Abbotsford RFC (Abbotsford, BC)
Justin Douglas – Abbotsford RFC (Abbotsford, BC)
Mike Fuailefau – Castaway Wanderers (Victoria, BC)
Lucas Hammond – Toronto Nomads (Toronto, ON)
Nathan Hirayama – Unattached (Richmond, BC)
Harry Jones – Captain, Capilano RFC (North Vancouver, BC)
Isaac Kaay – UVIC Vikes (Kamloops, BC)
Pat Kay – Castaway Wanderers (Duncan, BC)
Luke McCloskey – Castaway Wanderers (Victoria, BC)
John Moonlight – James Bay AA (Pickering, ON)
Matt Mullins – Queen’s University (Belleville, ON)
Jake Thiel – Abbotsford RFC (Abbotsford, BC)