Canadian sevens side fresh off fine showing, looks to keep going in South Africa

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The Canadian sevens rugby team visited a game reserve in South Africa this week, catching a glimpse of lions, giraffes, zebras and a herd of elephants cooling off in a mudpool.

The wide open spaces and fresh air were probably a welcome relief after a 19-hour journey from Dubai to Port Elizabeth, especially after 80 per cent of the team's luggage didn't get there with them.

"One thing I find regarding our players, things like that don't faze them," said head coach Geraint John. "They just get on with it."

Plus the players had brought gear with them in their carry-ons so they could still get in a recovery session Monday. The tournament runs Saturday and Sunday.

The Canadians left Dubai, the second stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series, on the heels of winning their pool and placing sixth overall last weekend. Canada won its group before losing 19-7 to Kenya in the quarter-finals of the main Cup competition and finishing 21-14 runners-up to Wales in the consolation Plate final.

The Canadians reached the quarter-finals at last year's event in Wellington, New Zealand, but hadn't made the Plate final since 1999 — which is before many of the counties had joined the circuit.

"A fantastic achievement," said John.

"It was an excellent result in terms of showing what the players can do," he added. "But as I said to the players, we've done that now, we have to do it again, make sure we're consistent in our performances."

Still there was a slight sense of a missed opportunity, an emotion that shows just how the Canadian team has raised the bar in recent times.

Canada, a core team this season on the expanded circuit, currently stands ninth in the series standings — ahead of sides like Australia and England.

The Canadians believe they have a chance to demonstrate that consistency this weekend. They have been drawn in a pool with Portugal, Zimbabwe and — for the third event in a row — the U.S.

Canada was without captain Nanyak Dala (ankle and knee), Chauncey O'Toole (ankle) and Sean Duke (ankle) for some early training sessions this week but have been declared fit. John put several players on standby back in Canada just in case.

The Canadians, who are just minutes away from the beach, expect to play before a total crowd of more than 100,000 over the two days at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Then it's back home, via a marathon route that takes them to Johannesburg, Dubai, London, Vancouver and Victoria — all in coach.

"It's a pretty long, arduous journey back," said John. "It's something that all the teams are talking to the IRB in terms of player welfare. It's a key major discussion point at the moment — players with injuries being cooped up at the back. It's the same for all the teams at the moment."

Thanks to Emirates Airlines, a sponsor on the Dubai spot, the winning Samoa team last week did get a break in the form of business class tickets.

The visit to the game reserve was part of a tradition of the Canadian sevens team, which looks to take in some of the local culture on every stop.

Organizations: HSBC Sevens World Series, U.S. Canada, IRB Emirates Airlines

Geographic location: South Africa, Dubai, Canada Port Elizabeth Kenya Wales Wellington New Zealand Australia England Portugal Zimbabwe Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium Johannesburg London Vancouver Victoria

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