Harry Jones knew it was time to get his shoulder fixed when it popped out while he was helping his brother put up some blinds.
“I was holding something for him and my shoulder slipped out,” recalled the Canadian rugby sevens veteran, who had been bothered by the injury since 2015. “It was just my arm getting in those awkward positions, then it would get fairly weak and slip out.
“When things like that are starting to happen, it’s fairly obvious I needed to have something done about it.”
The 29-year-old from West Vancouver, whose shoulder woes included a torn labrum, had surgery in late August in the wake of the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Essentially they cut off a piece of bone and screwed it into his shoulder socket to block the shoulder from being able to slip out.
The elegant Jones returned to action last weekend at the USA Sevens in Las Vegas and will be front and centre this weekend on home turf as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series comes to Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium.
“It’s as though he’s never been away,” Canada coach Damian McGrath said of Jones’ form in Las Vegas. “He stepped back in seamlessly. There was no drop in performance.”
Canada, which stands 11th in the overall standings midway through the 10-event series, has been drawn in a pool with No. 3 Fiji, No. 7 Samoa and No. 13 Kenya. The goal is to finish in the top two of the pool so as to make the elite Cup quarterfinals.
Olympic champion Fiji won last year’s Vancouver event, beating Kenya 31-12 in the final. The Pacific Islanders won stops in Cape Town and Hamilton, New Zealand earlier this season.
In-form Samoa defeated Canada in pool play at Las Vegas, eventually losing 27-0 to the U.S. in the championship match.
Canada’s record against Fiji is 4-47-0 with the last Canadian win coming in December 2017 in Cape Town. The Canadians are 11-44-0 against Samoa and 23-15-1 against Kenya.
Organizers said Thursday more than 70,000 tickets have been sold. Capacity for the two-day event is just over 80,000. The event drew a total of 213,630 spectators in its first three years on the circuit.
“It’s absolutely electric,” Jones said of the home atmosphere.
Despite winning five of six games in 2016, the Canadians finished ninth on home soil. Canada made the Cup quarterfinals in 2017, losing 36-7 to South Africa and eventually tied for seventh.
The Canadians finished 14th last year in Vancouver, squandering a 10-0 lead and losing 21-15 to Samoa in its finale. Canada’s overall record in Vancouver is 9-7-1.
New Zealand won the inaugural Canada Sevens in 2016, followed by England in 2017 and Fiji.
For Jones and his teammates, it’s a rare chance to perform before family and friends — and proof of how rugby sevens has grown.
“It’s a special tournament for so many different things. And I think it helps the game across Canada,” Jones said.
The Canadians were 13th last weekend in Las Vegas. Previously they tied for 11th in Dubai, Cape Town and Sydney and tied for seventh in Hamilton, where they made the Cup quarterfinals.
Canada’s preparations for the season weren’t helped by a two-month labour dispute with Rugby Canada. Injuries to key players like Jones, Lucas Hammond and speedster Justin Douglas also have affected results.
Jones remains optimistic.
“We have a great team and I strongly believe that once we kind of get everything aligned and push the off-field issues away that we’re going to start doing some great things,” Jones said.
“We’re so close to being a consistent not only a top-eight team but I think pushing further. And we have the players to do it.”
Said McGrath: “The results haven’t been fantastic for us but the thing that’s exciting for me is, given the lack of preparation, we’re getting better and better. And when all the players are back, I just have a feeling that we’ll finish this season strongly.”
And, with a regional Olympic qualifier coming at the end of the season, that’s good news.
Phil Berna, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Connor Braid, James Bay AA, Victoria; Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Burnaby, B.C.; Halifax; Mike Fuailefau, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Nathan Hirayama, (capt.), unattached, Richmond, B.C.; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, West Vancouver; Isaac Kaay, UVIC Vikes, Kamloops, B.C.; Pat Kay, Castaway Wanderers, Duncan, B.C.; Luke McCloskey, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Toronto; Josiah Morra, Toronto Saracens, Toronto; Matt Mullins, James Bay AA, Belleville, Ont.; Jake Thiel, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Adam Zaruba, Capilano RFC, North Vancouver.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press