Skip to content

Kaay of Kamloops falls short of Canada's Olympics rugby sevens roster

"You give up so much and your parents give up so much and people around you give up so much, so I felt like I almost failed them, in a way," Kaay said. "That was really hard."
/172520.ftimg.jpg

Shock, confusion and sadness have accompanied Isaac Kaay since his Olympic dreams were dashed.

Kaay, a 27-year-old rugby sevens player from Kamloops, was told last Monday he will not toil for Canada at the postponed 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, news that was released for public consumption on Friday by Rugby Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

"You give up so much and your parents give up so much and people around you give up so much, so I felt like I almost failed them, in a way," Kaay said. "That was really hard.

"I had my day of sadness. I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm not going to let it define me as a human being. I'm going to support the guys, even if it's from afar."

Henry Paul, head coach of the men's Canadian rugby sevens team, said 19 players who have been training in Langford with Team Canada were eligible to crack the 13-man travelling roster.

Paul analyzed more than 500 hours of footage, taking into account technical prowess, tactical intelligence, sportsmanship, mentality, analytics data and other factors before making excruciatingly tough decisions, he said.

"I just saw a couple of other things in other players," Paul said, noting Kaay was in competition with two or three teammates. "That's how difficult it was. It was literally down to the last nth degree on what this player could do and how they work overall among the team.

"It was really close and it wasn't an easy decision and I'd hate to make it again. Had there been more time, I think he might have been able to work through a few issues."

Kaay was still processing the news on Friday when he spoke to KTW.

"I took the news with a bit of frustration and, to be honest with you, a lot of confusion, as most of my teammates did, as well, but I guess that's just sport," Kaay said. "At the end of the day, the coach has the say.

"The confusion comes from just being such, especially with how my teammates have seen me over the past few years, a contributing factor to the team for a long time and a senior player on the team."

Paul took over head coaching reins from Damian McGrath, who was fired in 2019.

Kaay has not missed an HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series stop since his debut in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2017.

He has travelled the world and played in 164 Rugby Sevens Series matches, racking up 23 tries, 115 points and seven yellow cards.

In the team's most recent major event, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series stop in Vancouver in March of 2020, Kaay was named DHL Impact Player of the tournament.

"Respect to Isaac," Paul said. "He's a huge part of this team, well-liked and friends with all the guys. I know it's really difficult for the players on the team, as well."

Kaay suffered a knee injury (torn lateral collateral ligament) in January and was sidelined when the Canadians travelled to Dubai in April for an Olympic tune-up tournament, missing out on an opportunity to impress team brass.

"That put back his time to really show me all the things he can do," Paul said.

Kaay said he has recovered well and he was able to play in a recent string of exhibition matches against Rugby Canada Pacific Pride Performance Academy on Vancouver Island.

"To be left out was a bit of a surprise to most guys," Kaay said. "I was confused just because I thought I was in a good place, but I wasn't.

"All I know is I didn't fit into the plans going into Tokyo. It was just a big shock and there wasn't a whole lot of questions asked on either side."

Kaay told KTW earlier this month, prior to team selection, that he and Paul occasionally butted heads, but it was for the betterment of the team, just a veteran player and coach hashing things out.

Paul was asked about his relationship with Kaay.

"I think our relationship is really professional," Paul said. "In terms of butting heads, conflict is good. There are times, because he's a senior player, he's got every right, time and a place, to bring up things. We're not always going to agree on everything.

"My relationship with Isaac, I think, was pretty good. We could talk on the phone at any time. We talked quite often, especially with his injury, with things I was looking for from him. I just felt, when I kind of fit everyone together, there were just a few things that didn't really fit. It was a real tough one."

Rugby sevens made its Olympics debut at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, but the Canadian men's squad did not qualify. The Canadian women's team won bronze.

Both the men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments this summer begin with 12 teams divided into three pools of four for a preliminary round-robin.

The top eight teams advance to the knockout stage.

Both tournaments will be played at Tokyo Stadium, with the men in action from July 26 to July 28 and the women competing from July 29 to July 31.

"I always will want to play in that jersey and it will always be special to me," Kaay said.

"Some of those guys are my best friends. As sad as I'm allowed to be, I'm also really happy for those guys. It's this weird thing where I've got to get over being sad because I've got to be happy for them, too."

THE MEN'S ROSTER

Thirteen players cracked the Canadian men's rugby sevens team for the Tokyo Olympics.

The team: Phil Berna (Vancouver), Connor Braid (Victoria), Andrew Coe (Markham, Ont.), Justin Douglas (Abbotsford), Mike Fuailefau (Victoria), Lucas Hammond (Toronto), Nathan Hirayama (Richmond), Harry Jones (West Vancouver), Patrick Kay (Duncan), Matt Mullins (Belleville, Ont.), Theo Sauder (Vancouver), Jake Thiel (Abbotsford) and Conor Trainor (Vancouver).