Canada's rugby teams will be met with a daunting challenge each time they take the field at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco this weekend.
Lose one game and they're done.
In an elimination format that's new to the tournament, a team's loss at any point will drop them out of contention for the championship match. Losing teams will continue to compete for lower-ranking titles — either the challenge on both the men's and women's sides of the tournament, or the bowl, which is exclusive to the larger men's event — but medals will be off the table.
"You could literally lose the first game and your whole weekend is finished," Canada's men's head coach Damian McGrath said. "It's not very popular within the teams and the coaches. We prefer our normal round-robin series but this time it is what it is.
"It adds another dimension of excitement — do or die every game — it's knockout rugby at its truest."
John Tait, the head coach of Canada's women's team, had a similar reaction.
"It's like we've moved into the last game on Day 1 with this format," he said. "We know the margins are small and we just have to embrace that pressure and make sure that we keep to our game plan and execute. A couple bad bounces and missed opportunities and your tournament could be done."
Canada's women, the defending silver medallists from the last World Cup in 2013, play No. 14 Brazil in their first game Friday at AT&T Park.
The third-seeded Canadians are anchored by Ghislaine Landry, whose 984 all-time points makes her the top scorer on the women's Rugby Sevens World Series. Veteran Bianca Farella is also back and rounding into form after shoulder surgery forced her to miss the beginning of this season.
Only three players on Canada's roster were on the 2013 team that won World Cup silver, but six of them were on the Olympic squad that took bronze in Rio in 2016.
"We have a really well-balanced attack, we have some real home run hitters," Tait said.
"I think (the experience) helps. They've been here before, they know the pressure. That last World Cup we played some really close games ... It just felt like a great experience for what it was, but we finished on a loss and to get another opportunity to get back to that spot would be amazing."
Canada's men, seeded 10th at the tournament, narrowly missed the bye out of the first round that was awarded to the top eight teams. They open play Friday against No. 23 Papua New Guinea with Argentina awaiting the victor in the round of 16.
Canada's teams saw mixed results this season on the Sevens Series.
The women had two third-place finishes in five events and ended the season fourth. The men, meanwhile, failed to medal in all 10 stops and finished ninth as injuries took their toll.
"We have such a small squad," said McGrath. "We're not such a powerful rugby nation that we can play without our best players available, we don't have that strength in depth. ... We rely on the same players and having them all fresh and fit is key for us."
The men's team will be captained by veteran Harry Jones, who played in the last Sevens World Cup in 2013 where the Canadians placed ninth, and the 15s version of the tournament in 2015.
Six of the 14 players on the men's roster will be making World Cup debuts. But that doesn't mean they lack experience.
"The whole team's fairly experienced because it's a small squad and they play on a regular basis," McGrath said. "There is no substitute for experience. You can be daunted by a task sometimes when it's new, but nothing that they'll encounter will be anything they haven't met before."
The tournament, which runs through Sunday, is the first rugby World Cup in any form to be staged in the U.S. and just the second to be held in North America after Canada hosted the 2006 Women's World Cup in Edmonton.
McGrath sees the benefit of having a tournament of this stature close to Canadian soil.
"It's accessible to lots of Canadian fans and we've already bumped into lots of Canadians around the hotel," he said. "It all adds to rugby's exposure and Canadian rugby needs all the help it can get at the moment."
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press