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Canada rugby 7s men end 29-game losing run with win at last-chance Olympic qualifier

MONACO — Canada's men ended a 29-game losing streak with a much-needed 31-12 win Friday over Uganda at the World Rugby Sevens Repechage tournament.

Twelve men's and 12 women's teams are competing for the last berth in the Olympic field. The fifth-ranked Canadian women have already qualified for Paris.

Matt Oworu scored two tries and Ethan Hager, captain Phil Berna and Cooper Coats added singles for Canada, which led 26-7 at the half at the Stade Louis II.

Adrian Kasito scored two tries for Uganda, which finished sixth in the second-tier World Rugby HSBC Challenger Series.

The Canadians were relegated from the elite HSBC SVNS series earlier this month in Madrid after a 3-36-0 campaign that ended with the lengthy losing streak as they finished last in the 12-team standings.

The Canada men, who placed eighth at the Tokyo Olympics, had been a core team on the top sevens circuit since 2012-13 and lifted the trophy in Singapore in 2017. Now they will have to battle their way back to the top tier.

Canada faces China and No. 8 Britain in Pool B play Saturday. Britain dumped China 35-19 in its opener Friday.

The top two from each of the three groups plus the two best third-place finishers will move on to the quarterfinals.

Canada fell behind early after Uganda regained the ball from the kickoff with Kasito scoring soon after.

Hager replied for Canada, scoring after gaining territory with a kick into space. The powerful Oworu then muscled his way over the try-line after fine work at the breakdown by Berna and Thomas Isherwood.

Berna scored himself off a lineout after Uganda was penalized and Oworu added his second try before the break with Coats scoring from a quick-tap penalty from close range in the second half.

Kasito added a late consolation try for the Africans.

The strong men's field in Monaco also includes No. 7 South Africa and No. 10 Spain from the HSBC SVNS circuit. The other teams in quest of the final Olympic men's berth are Brazil, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Spain, Tonga and Uganda.

Britain won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics and finished fourth at the Tokyo Games.

South Africa collected bronze in Rio and has three World Series season titles while finishing runner-up nine times. The Blitzboks also won this season's opening event in Dubai.

Host Spain delivered the final blow in Canada's relegation battle in Madrid with a 22-14 win on June 3.

Canada has taken part in the Monaco qualifier before, beaten 14-12 by Russia in the 2016 repechage quarterfinals.

The Canadian men had not won since Dec. 10 in Cape Town — a 33-17 victory over France to finish seventh on the season’s second stop. Canada placed last in the other six events, going winless in Dubai, Perth, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Madrid produced four more losses in the relegation bracket.

The relegation fight was a product of the sevens circuit reducing the number of men’s teams to 12 from 16 to align with the women’s competition and the Olympic field.

The Canada men survived a four-team World Series relegation playoff last year, defeating Kenya 12-7 in London in the final on a last-minute Alex Russell try to preserve its core status.

The Paris Olympic men's field already includes host France plus New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia, who booked their tickets by finishing in the top four of the HSBC SVNS series this season. They are joined by six regional qualification tournament winners: Uruguay (South America), Ireland (Europe), U.S. (North America), Kenya (Africa), Samoa (Oceania) and Japan (Asia).

The Americans beat Canada 24-14 in the final of the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens last August in Langford, B.C. The Canadian women thumped Mexico 53-0 in their final to qualify for Paris.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024

The Canadian Press