For the U.S. and Canada, the long road through the IRB Sevens Series to next June’s 7’s Rugby World Cup in Moscow begins this weekend at the annual NACRA 7’s championship. The tournament, which will take place at Twin Elm Rugby Park in Ottawa, Ontario, will also serve as the North American and Caribbean qualifying tournament for the 2013 7’s RWC with the two finalists earning a place in the tournament. The third place team will be invited to next year’s Hong Kong 7’s. Even though there are 11 teams participating in the men’s tournament (six will be playing in the women’s tournament), the U.S. and Canada are heavy favorites to take home the title and the 7’s RWC berths. Outside of those two Guyana seems to be the favorite, but what about the rest? To gain a clearer picture of this weekend, let’s take a look at all the team involved:
Pool A: The U.S., Jamaica, St. Vincent & Grenadines
Pool B: Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas
Pool C: Guyana, Cayman Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados
The United States: The U.S. has long been the dominant force in North American and Caribbean 7’s. However, that dominance has lately been challenged by Canada, who have earned a permanent spot on the IRB Sevens Series with the United States. Still, the U.S. has a lot of talent available for the 7’s game, and since head coach Alex Magleby took over the team last year, he has gone out to try and recruit even more talent to the game. Throughout the summer the U.S. had a healthy domestic 7’s tournament with several teams having quality seasons. From this, Magleby was able to identify a couple of young players to add to the team, but for the most part, he returns a veteran squad. Zach Test, Colin Hawley, Mike Palefau, Maka Unufe, Tai Enosa, Shalom Suniula, Rocco Mauer, and Peter Tiberio all return to the team and should provide it with a lot of veteran experience and savvy. Joining them will be Luke Hume, Taylor Mokate, Jack Halalilo, and Carlin Isles. Hume and Mokate were capped by the U.S.A. XV’s team earlier this year, both scoring tries. Hume has plenty of experience playing 7’s and has looked fantastic so far this summer. Mokate is a big strong runner that has been capped by the 7’s team before. Halalilo and Isles are projects but their growth has been surprisingly fast. Isles speed in particular is impressive, as he showed the Canadians in the Victoria’s 7’s earlier this year.
The team prepared for the tournament by playing in the Serevi RugbyTown Sevens earlier this month against the best domestic teams in the United States, as well as the invitational Samurai and an all-star team made up of Waisale Serevi, Ben Gollings, and Santiago Gomez Cora. The Eagles won the tournament and will be looking to use the confidence gained to win the NACRA 7’s. Magleby stated there are three goals for the team at this tournament: win, prep for the IRB Sevens Series, and build the squad. If he is able to accomplish those goals, the Eagles will have had a very successful tournament.
Team: Zach Test, Colin Hawley, Mike Palefau, Shalom Suniula, Tai Enosa, Luke Hume, Maka Unufe, Rocco Mauer, Peter Tiberio, Taylor Mokate, Jack Halalilo, and Carlin Isles
Canada: Playing on home soil is only going to be extra motivation for a Canadian 7’s program on a high. Even though the team was not a core member of the IRB Sevens Series last year, they still managed to make a Cup Quarterfinal and rack up points. The high point of the season came when they won permanent status as a Series member in last year’s tournament in Hong Kong. Led by Sean Duke, former Osprey’s player Chauncey O’Toole, Conor Trainor, and Ciaran Hearn, Canada are an experience squad with plenty of pace and power. Like the U.S., they have taken their 7’s program seriously and have brought in several players to help the team. Hearn and O’Toole are standouts for the XV’s team and will bring plenty of strength to the squad. John Moonlight and Phil Mack and another set of players with plenty of experience.
Canada did not have as robust of domestic summer season as the United States but with the team based in British Columbia, they did have opportunities to play in the Victoria 7’s and Vancouver 7’s. They have also been training together full-time for the last year. That time together should help them be a very cohesive unit and one that doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers. That will make them hard to beat and they should probably be considered favorites at home.
Team: Nanyak Dala, Sean While, Chauncey O’Toole, Conor Trainor, John Moonlight, Tyler Ardron, Jeff Hassler, Phil Mack, Ciaran Hearn, Harry Jones, Sean Duke, and Connor Braid
Guyana: Outside of the U.S. and Canada, Guyana has been the dominant 7’s team in NACRA over the last several years. The team has won the last three NACRA 7’s championships (played without the U.S. and Canada) and has played in the IRB Sevens Series on multiple occasions. That experience could come into play over the course of two brutal days. The team is also physically strong with quick runners led by captain Ryan Gonsalves. However, despite their dominance over other members of the region the last several years, things haven’t been going so well for the team. Their participation was even in doubt until only a few day ago when the team was able to come up with financing to send the team to Canada. Still, they weren’t able to come up with the money to fly key player Kevin McKenzie in from Australia. Further compounding their problems is the fact that team members Richard Staglon and Ronald Mayers were denied visas into Canada (they are still listed on their roster though). The team also hasn’t been able to train at the national stadium. Despite this, Guyana is still a team to be reckoned with and should be the favorites to claim third place.
Team: Ryan Gonsalves (Captain), Richard Staglon, Ronald Mayers, Rupert Giles, Vallon Adams, Dwayne Schroeder, Avery Corbin, Rickford Cummings, Peabo Hamilton, Elwin Chase, Blaise Bailey, Albert LaRose, and Claudius Butts
Jamaica: Challenging Guyana for third place may be Jamaica. While the country has traditionally preferred league to union, Jamaica has prepared for this tournament by bringing in some England based players and holding a week-long training camp in Toronto ahead of the tournament. The biggest asset going for the team is their athletic ability. Just watching the Olympics it’s easy to see that the team is going to have pace, which in 7’s is an extremely valuable skill. A lack of time together and experience with 7’s could be their downfall however, but they certainly have the skills to compete.
Team: Not available
Trinidad and Tobago: Similar to Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago are blessed an athletic teams and a fairly good-sized talent pool. Out of all the non-U.S. and Canada teams in the tournament, Trinidad and Tobago has the highest number of players playing rugby. Even with that advantage, the team still hasn’t performed too well at recent tournaments, but with an ailing Guyana team, this could be their opportunity to step up.
Team: Not available
Mexico: If there is one country in NACRA outside of the U.S. and Canada that has been affected most by rugby’s inclusion in the Olympics, it’s Mexico. Since the announcement that rugby would be included in the 2016 games, Mexico has poured resources into their 7’s team. The number of players playing rugby in Mexico over the last few years has skyrocketed. They now have several dozen clubs and the national team has been traveling all over the North America to get games. The team has played in the Vancouver 7’s as well as several tournaments in the United States. That means that their players have been playing together for quite some time and will be cohesive. The team also has experience playing in the IRB Sevens Series on a couple of occasions. The weakness of the Mexican team is their overall size and speed. That is not to say that they are weak and slow, but rugby is not even close to the number one sport in the country and so their talent pool isn’t as large. Still, they are the up and coming team in the region and a solid performance at the tournament could see them replace Guyana as the region’s number three team.
Team: Juan Pablo Andrade (C), Jorge Bermudez, Roberto Calderón, Miguel Carner, Alejandro Chávez, Nazareno El Hom, Christian Henning, Fernando Herrejon, Pascal Nadaud, Simon Pierre, Rodrigo Ramos, Gerardo Gutiérrez
Cayman Islands: If there is one thing that Cayman Islands team does not lack, it’s resources. Backed by significant money, the Cayman Islands team has been traveling all over North America to prepare for this tournament. Earlier in the spring they played Dartmouth College, and in the summer they sent teams to play in tournaments in Calgary, Victoria, and Vancouver. The team placed second in Calgary, fifth in Victoria, and fourth in Vancouver. The last two tournaments featured good club teams from the U.S., as well as teams made up of the Canadian national team. Additionally, the team has been training under the Maples Academy and has brought in Canadian legend Morgan Williams to be their coach. The team also has the track record of beating Jamaica, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA South. It’s quite possible that no team will be as prepared as the Cayman Islands for the tournament and with a strong performance they may finally be able to beat Guyana.
Team: Robbie Cribb, Josh Clark, Jon Murphy, Edward Westin, Dow Travers, Phil Fourie, Venasio Tokatokavanua, Simon Crompton, Morgan Hayward, Mike Wilson, Joel Clark, Garrett Conolly
Bermuda: As one of the smallest countries in the tournament, Bermuda will have their hands full claiming the third spot in the tournament. Still, there is a great rugby tradition on the island and the team recently was instructed by Waisale Serevi and his team. They have had plenty of time together which should be an advantage, but unlike Mexico or the Cayman Islands, Bermuda haven’t gone out to find competition and that could be what comes back to haunt them.
Team: Tom Healy (captain), Somers Brewin, Aldo Campbell, Tom Bassett, Justin Collis, Jack Ellison, Steven Husbands, Dylan O’Kelly-Lynch, Antonio Perinchief-Leader, Darren Richardson, Patrick Richardson, Neville Zuill
Barbados: Barbados are another team with a good rugby tradition. They have performed well in the past and could do so again, but a lack of games this summer, could hinder their performance. They will have athletes on their team, including some brought in from England, but just getting out of Pool C would be an accomplishment.
Team: Antony Bayne-Charles, Dario Stoute, Dwight Forde, Dominic Peters, Jae Bowen, Phil Lucas, Jordan Gomez, Marcus Harewood, Leon Driscoll (captain), Liam Cooper-King, Stefan Taricska, Sean Ward, Tom Lucas
Bahamas: The Bahamas may not have a lot of players, but they do have experience. The team has previously competed in the Commonwealth Games, as well as several tournament in the Caribbean. According to their coach they have a good record against Mexico and Bermuda and could be a surprise team. However, like Barbados, getting out of their pool would be an accomplishment.
Team: Andrew Bain, Duran Beadle, Andrew Kemp, Charles Smith, Dan Woodside, Le-Var Boyd, Dorian Butler, Kacy Charlton, Mico Cooper, Jamaal Curry, Edwin Joseph, Michael Watkins
St. Vincent & Grenadines: Getting out of Pool A with the U.S. and Jamaica is going to be difficult for St. Vincent & Grenadines. They are not a large country and don’t have a lot of experience. Maybe that could be a good thing and they’ll be able to surprise a few teams, but it’s unlikely.
Team: Not available
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