Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Media
Belleville’s Matt Mullins is heading to the Tokyo Olympics as a member of the Canadian men’s rugby sevens team.
Rugby Canada announced its men’s and women’s rugby sevens rosters on Friday.
Canada had qualified in men’s rugby sevens for the Tokyo Olympics two years ago. Following the uncertainty last year when the Summer Games were postponed and the continuing selection process, Mullins certainly felt a range of emotions in earning one of the 13 spots on the men’s roster.
“It’s relieving and also pretty exciting to finally have it all set in stone,” Mullins told Total Sports Quinte.
Mullins, now 26, was introduced to the sport of rugby through the Belleville Bulldogs club touch program when he was about 12 or 13 years old. He played traditional rugby during his years at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville and continued playing club rugby for the Bulldogs as well.
“I wasn’t pursuing rugby seriously until later in my high school career. I remember in my Grade 12 year of high school I got onto the Ontario rugby team,” Mullins said. “I never even really thought about playing for Canada until then and the following year got involved in the selection process for the under-20 Canadian team. From there I was like ‘maybe this is a possibility’ and kept pursuing it from there. It all happened pretty quickly from there.”
While he may have aspired to play for Canada on an international level, the Olympics weren’t on his radar. The Rugby Sevens event was added at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the Canadian women’s team captured the bronze medal. The men’s team didn’t qualify for those games and will make its debut in Tokyo.
“Even when I started taking rugby more seriously, I don’t think it was announced that rugby was in the Olympics yet so even back then it wasn’t a thought in my head,” Mullins said.
Mullins has been living and training in British Columbia ever since heading there to try out for the under-20 team around 2014. He would normally be playing in a rugby sevens series in B.C., but there hasn’t been much game action in the past year.
Canada did take 17 players to Dubai in April to compete in two tournaments prior to finalizing the roster for Tokyo.
Mullins said the Canadian team is familiar with most of the competition it will face at the Olympics. Canada is slotted into Group B of the 12-team field with the 2016 champion Fiji, silver medalist Great Britain and Japan. Canada did win bronze at the HSBC Canada Sevens event in Vancouver in March 2020.
“I’m pretty excited,” Mullins said. “I think we’ve got a decent pool so we should have a good chance if we’re at our best.”
The Olympic men’s rugby sevens tournament was held July 25 to 28. In pool play, Canada lost 24-0 to Great Britain and 28-14 to Fiji before defeating Japan 36-12. New Zealand defeated the Canadians 21-10 in the quarter-finals.
The United States defeated Canada 21-14 in the Placing 5-8 round. Fiji repeated as the Olympic champion with a 27-12 victory over New Zealand in the gold medal game. Argentina captured the bronze medal with a 17-12 win over Great Britain.
According to Rugby Canada, “rugby sevens is a stripped-down version of rugby union with just seven players on each team playing on a full sized pitch. There are four backs, three forwards and each team can have up to five replacements. With fewer bodies and extra space on the pitch, games are fast-paced, full of breakaway sprints and exciting tries.”
To learn more, visit www.rugby.ca.