BY MELISSA COUTO
Canada’s rugby teams will be met with a daunting challenge each time they take the field at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco this weekend.
Lose one game and they’re done.
In an elimination format that’s new to the tournament, a team’s loss at any point will drop them out of contention for the championship match. Losing teams will continue to compete for lower-ranking titles – either the challenge on both the men’s and women’s sides of the tournament, or the bowl, which is exclusive to the larger men’s event – but medals will be off the table.
“You could literally lose the first game and your whole weekend is finished,” Canada’s men’s head coach Damian McGrath said. “It’s not very popular within the teams and the coaches. We prefer our normal round-robin series but this time it is what it is.
“It adds another dimension of excitement – do or die every game – it’s knockout rugby at its truest.”
John Tait, the head coach of Canada’s women’s team, had a similar reaction.
“It’s like we’ve moved into the last game on Day 1 with this format,” he said. “We know the margins are small and we just have to embrace that pressure and make sure that we keep to our game plan and execute. A couple bad bounces and missed opportunities and your tournament could be done.”
Breanne Nicholas of Blenheim is playing for Canada’s women, the defending silver medallists from the last World Cup in 2013.
Canada plays No. 14 Brazil in their first game Friday at AT&T Park.
The third-seeded Canadians are anchored by Ghislaine Landry, whose 984 all-time points makes her the top scorer on the women’s Rugby Sevens World Series. Veteran Bianca Farella is also back and rounding into form after shoulder surgery forced her to miss the beginning of this season.
Only three players on Canada’s roster were on the 2013 team that won World Cup silver, but six of them were on the Olympic squad that took bronze in Rio in 2016. Nicholas is making her World Cup debut.
“We have a really well-balanced attack, we have some real home run hitters,” Tait said.
“I think (the experience) helps. They’ve been here before, they know the pressure. That last World Cup we played some really close games. … It just felt like a great experience for what it was, but we finished on a loss and to get another opportunity to get back to that spot would be amazing.”
The Canadian women had two third-place finishes in five events on the Sevens Series and ended the season fourth.
The tournament, which runs through Sunday, is the first rugby World Cup in any form to be staged in the U.S. and just the second to be held in North America after Canada hosted the 2006 Women’s World Cup in Edmonton.