GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Canada cruised to three straight victories on Day 1 of a regional Olympic rugby sevens qualifying tournament.
The Canadian men came into the 2019 RF Group RAN (Rugby Americas North) Sevens as the team to beat and they showed why Saturday, blanking Barbados 47-0 before thumping Mexico 49-5 and Bermuda 55-0.
On Sunday, Canada will play Guyana — the fourth-place team in Pool B — with the winner moving into the semifinals.
The tournament winner qualifies for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The second- and third-place teams will have another opportunity via a last-chance repechage tournament in 2020.
"To put on three 40-plus scores, I'm pretty happy with that," said Canada interim coach Henry Paul.
The automatic Olympic qualification of the U.S. — thanks to their second-place finish this season in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series — has opened the door for the Canadian men for a first-ever Olympic berth.
But they are having to do it with an injury-riddled roster, missing Justin Douglas (ankle), Connor Braid (shoulder), Admir Cejvanovic (hamstring), Lucas Hammond (ankle) and Cole Davis (core).
The top four finishers this season on both the men's and women's sides of the World Rugby Sevens Series earned automatic Olympic qualification. That meant Fiji, the U.S., New Zealand and South Africa joined host Japan on the men's side in the 12-country Olympic field.
Canada's women, bronze medallists at the 2016 Olympics, qualified directly by finishing third overall — along with Series-leading New Zealand, the U.S. and Australia.
The Canadian men finished 11th in the World Series after a roller-coaster year that saw the players sit out two months prior to the start of the 2018-19 season due to a contract dispute with Rugby Canada.
At the Rio North American qualifier in June 2015, Canada defeated the Bahamas 45-0, Trinidad & Tobago 38-7, Guyana 51-0, the Cayman Islands 36-0 and Mexico 34-0 prior to running into the U.S. in the final in Cary, N.C., where Canada lost 21-5.
The Canadians' qualifying journey ended in a 14-12 quarterfinal loss to Russia in the Olympic repechage in Monaco, an event Spain won to earn the final berth in the 2016 Rio Games.
Canada has fired two coaches since, with Zimbabwe's Liam Middleton getting the axe after the Monaco repechage. His replacement, England's Damian McGrath, was let go in early May.
Paul, a former England sevens player, is running the team in the Olympic qualifier and the Pan American Games later this month,
Paul, an assistant to 15s head coach Kingsley Jones, led Canada on the final two stops of the World Series season.
Making the Olympics will raise the profile of rugby sevens and help Rugby Canada's bottom line. Own The Podium recommended $6.31 million in funding to the women's sevens squad in the first three years of the Tokyo quadrennial. The men got $130,000.
The Canadians look to join Argentina, which won the Sudamerica Rugby Sevens, to become the sixth men's team to confirm its place in Tokyo.
The six-team North American women's qualifier, also this weekend in the Caymans, is a round-robin featuring the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago.
At the end of the round-robin, the top two teams will meet in the final with the remaining four playing ranking games. With Canada and the U.S. already qualified, the top two will advance to the 2020 women's repechage tournament.