After the cornerstones of the last decade have retired after the Tokyo Olympics, leadership of the Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team has passed to players like Victoria’s new assistant captain Jake Thiel.
“This great group was together for a long time and I was allowed to play with them for a few years,” said the 24-year-old Thiel, who made his Canadian debut in 2018.
It was strange not to see Connor Braid from Victoria, the great Nathan Hirayama from the University of Victoria Vikes, Harry Jones from North Vancouver, Justin Douglas from Abbotsford and Conor Trainor as they headed to BC Place for the HSBC World Series Canada Sevens on Saturday Pitch ran. After the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the summer, the national team’s regulars retired.
“I grew up under such great leaders as Hirayama, Braid, Jones and John Moonlight,” said Thiel.
“The biggest thing I learned from them was that they were such incredible leaders off the field too.”
Thiel took note of everything.
“I am now looking forward to being a team leader. It’s a role I haven’t had since I was under 20. It’s an exciting new challenge. “
In Saturday’s group game, Canada defeated Germany 24-5 and Chile 19:14 and lost 29:19 to the USA to reach today’s quarter-finals.
Canadian Olympic team players Mike Fuailefau from Victoria, Pat Kay von Duncan, UVic Vikes alumnus Lucas Hammond, Matt Mullins and Theo Sauder have not retired, but are sitting against the Canada Sevens at BC Place because the Tokyo experience, an Olympics in the midst of a pandemic proved so draining.
That leaves only three of the Canadian team’s players who made it to the Tokyo quarterfinals – Thiel, Andrew Coe and Phil Berna – in the line-up at BC Place and for the World Series Edmonton Sevens at the Commonwealth Stadium next weekend. Berna is the captain and Thiel is the assistant captain.
“We played the young players in the Olympic warm-up games in Langford and that was a great advantage for these aspiring players on their way up to the national team because they saw the speed and endurance that are required at world level,” said Thiel.
“You are better prepared than I was when I performed.”
The Canadian youth movement that takes place at BC Place includes island players Jack Carson, Ciaran Breen, Brennig Prevost, Anton Ngongo and Matt Percillier.
“The new boys are so hungry and their level of talent is so high,” said Thiel.
“The Pacific Pride” [Langford-based national Under-23 development team] did a great job feeding these guys into the senior program. We will have a depth that we have never had before. “
But there is still a learning curve.
“The look on their faces when they first stepped onto the BC Place pitch was like, ‘Oh my God,'” said Thiel, who grew up in a rugby family with father Jon Thiel, a veteran of three World Championships in XVs, brother Josh played for Canada in XVs and Sevens, and mother Jen (nee Ross) on the Canadian women’s team.
Well-known Canadian veterans also sit in the BC Place and Edmonton Women’s World Series Sevens, including two-time Olympians Ghislaine Landry, Charity Williams and Bianca Farella. It was a shocking time for the Langford women’s team with a player revolt that resulted in Mill Bay head coach John Tait resigning ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The 2016 Rio Olympic bronze medalists then called a controversial non-rugby press conference in Tokyo to address social issues before shockingly eliminated from the games in the group stage.
Deep players like Olivia Apps, Emma Chown and Breanne Nicholas, who have been vying for the game time with the established starters in recent years, get their chance this weekend along with UVic Vikes players Ella O’Regan and Renee Gonzalez.
In Saturday’s women’s tournament, Canada beat Mexico 39-0 and lost 22:12 to the USA and 19-5 to Great Britain. Canada will play the USA in the semi-finals today.
There’s an all-round feel to this weekend as the 2020 Canada Sevens 2020 was the last live sporting event in BC this March before things closed this spring and summer due to the pandemic.
Since BC Place is considered an indoor venue despite its stadium size, attendance is limited to half the lower bowl to a capacity of 13,500. That’s compared to the nearly 40,000 fans who attended the 2020 Canada Sevens on Saturday.
Both the men’s 12-team and women’s four-team tournaments will be cut off this weekend, with several of the marquee nations missing due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The medal and consolation rounds will be held today at BC Place.
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