Canada men’s rugby sevens coach Sean White calls it a moment of realization for his players.
With the HSBC SVNS Series coming back to Vancouver in February, he said this stop is important to grow the sport and showcase to his players where they have come from.
Walking along the concourse of B.C. Place, meeting fans and having family cheer them on during the Vancouver Sevens stop brings home the impact they can have in growing the sport in Canada, White added.
“I really think that a huge part of what we do in Vancouver is to really ignite and inspire young athletes, whether that be from Canada or around the world,” he said. “Many of (these players) talk about how important is was to watch sevens in Vancouver.”
White said some of the team’s players watched the first Vancouver Sevens tournament as youth or teenagers and have seen the tournament grow with their careers.
“You go from fans watching that tournament to interacting with the players to being one of those players,” White said.
“We talked about it last year when they walked through the concourse, shaking hands and taking photos with kids, that those are the memories that fans hold onto. I think that’s the legacy we can leave behind the Vancouver Sevens.”
The men’s team practised in North Vancouver on Friday and will play next week in Perth, Australia, for the third stop of the series.
Vancouver was confirmed as one of eight stops on the sevens circuit in July, having first been introduced as one for the men’s game in 2016.
This year’s iteration will feature both men’s and women’s competitions spread over three days.
There had been concerns that the popular stop wouldn’t make the cut as World Rugby looked to streamline the tournament series.
“I think it’s irreplaceable in terms of exciting a fan base that maybe hasn’t reached rugby yet,” said White.
Phil Berna, who grew up in Kitsilano, said he wants it to become a marquee event for the city and for rugby fans.
“Its massive for exposure. Getting kids exposure to the game and hopefully increasing our numbers across the country is massive,” he said. “I know it’s one of the main showcases Rugby Canada has to put on a show for fans. It’s massive that we have it.”
Berna is playing in his ninth season with the team and is aiming to play in his 50th series stop in Vancouver.
Teammate Thomas Isherwood said the importance of playing in front of a hometown crowd can’t be understated.
“Obviously, rugby is not Canada’s biggest sport,” he said. “When you come to Vancouver Sevens, you see 30,000 people in the stands cheering Canada. To be a part of that is awesome, and you want all the kids to be a part of that and that’s one way to build rugby in Canada.”
The Canadian men stand ninth in the HSBC standings after finishing 12th in Dubai and seventh in Cape Town, where they posted pool wins against New Zealand and Samoa and a final victory over France.
“It’s been a better start to the year than we’re used to,” Berna said.
White agreed with his veteran player, adding that his team is looking to grow through the season, culminating in Olympic qualifiers in June.
“We’re still really hyper-focused on what we want to do and how we want to control the game,” he said. “Lots of it comes down to ball control, possession1/4, we want to make sure we’re building a product of rugby that players are proud to play and the fans are proud to watch.”
Canada’s men have been drawn in Pool A with Argentina, South Africa and Spain for the Perth Sevens later this month.
The Canadian women have been drawn with Australia, Britain and South Africa in Pool A. They go to Perth fifth in the overall standings after placing fourth in Cape Town and sixth in the Series-opening stop in Dubai. Britain stands ninth and South Africa 11th.
Australia, which won the first two events, tops the women’s table ahead of France and New Zealand which both made the podium in the opening tournaments.
France, Fiji, Brazil and Spain make up Pool B on the women’s side while Pool C consists of Olympic champion New Zealand, the U.S., Ireland and Japan.