Rugby Sevens brings out the international best

Jamaica’s Dae-Marie Whyte, third from left holding the ball, is one to watch in this tournament.
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The 2019 RF Group Rugby Americas North (RAN) Men’s and Women’s Sevens will take place at the Truman Bodden National Sports Complex on Saturday and Sunday.

This international sevens tournament serves as a qualification event for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020, scheduled from 24 July through 9 Aug. 2020.

Spectators are in for some top-quality international rugby games, featuring sevens teams from the Caribbean, Central America and Canada.

Men’s favourites

As Canada’s men did not qualify for the Olympics directly through the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, they will be attending with hopes of being successful through the regional qualification tournament.

They will be without the services of Connor Braid, Justin Douglas, Lucas Hammond, Admir Cejvanovic and Luke McCloskey due to injury. Canada has not attended the RAN Sevens since it won in 2016 when Trinidad and Tobago were the hosts.

The top team in the Men’s category will qualify for the Olympics directly and the second and third placed teams will have another opportunity to qualify through the repechage tournament in 2020.

Jamaica, champion for the last two years, is expecting to be a finalist against Canada. However, Guyana has come close twice with narrow defeats in recent finals. If there is a surprise in either group, it could cause problems for the favourites. Canada, Jamaica and Guyana are the teams to watch, but keep one eye on Mexico to cause an upset.

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Men’s players to watch:

  • Jamaica: Mikel Facey

Facey was the youngest player to score in a Rugby World Cup Sevens last year in San Francisco at AT&T Park, and the leading try scorer in the 2018 Rugby Americas North Sevens to help Jamaica qualify for the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. A former rugby leaguer in Jamaica, Facey made the switch to union to play in the Rugby Americas North U-19 division for a few years.

The 19-year-old was awarded the MVP last year during the New York 7s and scored two tries at the 2019 Hong Kong Sevens invitational. Facey is confident, smooth and deceptively fast.

  • Canada: Nathan Hirayama

Richmond, BC’s Nathan Hirayama has been a stalwart on Canada’s Men’s Sevens Team since making his HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut for Canada at the Dubai Sevens at the age of 18 in 2006.

A prolific playmaker and points scorer, the 31-year-old currently leads all active players in points scored with 1,718 and only trails Ben Gollings (2,652) and Tomasi Cama (2,026) for the all-time record.

Hirayama, whose father Gary represented Canada in both 7s and 15s, is a two-time defending Gold Medal winner at the 2011 and 2015 Pan-American Games and also competed at the last two Commonwealth Games in 2013 and 2017, along with the Rugby World Cup 7s in 2013 and 2018.

Nathan Hirayama, centre, will be playing for Canada in the hope of taking the team to the Olympics next year.

Canada missed out on qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, so will be eager to book their spot for the 2020 edition in Tokyo through the 2019 RF Group RAN Sevens in the Cayman Islands.

  • Mexico: Rodrigo Ripoll

Ripoll is an exciting young fullback who came through the Under-19 competition representing Mexico and has test match experience against Bahamas and Colombia. He is tough and fast, punches well above his weight, and has strong kicking and passing skills.

Women’s favourites

On the women’s side of the tournament, the top two teams at the end of the weekend will compete for a spot in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games at next year’s global repechage.

Saint Lucia stood out last year as the most improved with breakout player Kameka President playing a dominant role in defence and attack. Trinidad and Tobago have fallen at the last hurdle against Mexico two years in a row, and will surely be looking for revenge.

The last Olympic qualifier took place in Cary, North Carolina, with the hosts defeating Mexico 88-0 to book their spot in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2017 tournament, hosted in Mexico, was so tight and competitive that there was only one try in the game that seemed more like a high speed, big collision, chess match. Last year’s tournament was a more open event.

Jamaica has continually improved over the last few years with star speedster Dae-Marie Whyte racking up the tries. Jamaica may have a say in matters this time around.

Women’s players to watch

  • Bahamas: Carlene ‘Carly’ Johnson

Johnson is a former sprinter-turned-rugby-player, making her a powerful and a destructive runner. Having played rugby the past five years, 28-year-old Johnson has represented the Bahamas in tournaments in Dubai, Miami, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico and Barbados.

Currently a professional certified lifeguard, Johnson is a graduate of Taylor University and a former all-American flag football player. She led her team to the championship from 2015-2017 and was MVP in 2016.

  • St. Lucia: Kameka President

President was awarded the MVP of the tournament at the 2017 Bouclier Monique Ribeaut Women’s 7s tournament (Guadeloupe), Senior Female Rugby Player of the Year (2017 and 2018) and was selected for the Dream Team at the 2018 RTEK RAN Women’s Sevens Tournament in Barbados after scoring 29 points, five tries and two conversions in six matches.

  • Jamaica: Dae-Marie Whyte

Whyte is a try scoring machine with a deadly step and pace to burn on the outside. She is studying at GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, and was awarded Most Improved Player in 2015 and Player of the Year in 2017.

All matches of the 2019 RAN Sevens tournament will be streamed live on RAN’s YouTube channel and Facebook Page. Fans can also follow updates using the hashtag #RAN7s on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The event page for the tournament can be found at www.rugbyamericasnorth.com/ran7s.