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Canadian men turn heads with two upset wins on Day 1 of South Africa Rugby Sevens

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Canada's men, who finished last in Dubai last weekend, scored upset wins over defending World Series champion New Zealand and reigning Cape Town titleholder Samoa on Saturday to advance to the Cup quarterfinals of the South Africa Sevens.

The Canadian women also made it to the Cup quarterfinals by virtue of being one of the two best third-place finishers.

The men will face Argentina while the women take on defending Series champion New Zealand in Sunday's quarterfinals.

Cape Town is the second stop of the rebranded HSBC SVNS, formerly known as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

The Canadian men, who had lost their last 11 meetings with the All Blacks and 13 of the last 14 with Samoa, reached the Cup quarterfinals just once last season — finishing fourth in Toulouse in May. Their previous best showing last season was a 10th in the opening stop in Hong Kong.

The Canadians scored 19 unanswered points after conceding an early try to down New Zealand 19-7 in their opening match Saturday. David Richards scored one try and set up another by Cooper Coats to give the Canadians a 14-7 lead at the break. Jack Carson added a try early in the second half with a solo run down the blindside from a Canadians scrum.

It was just Canada's fourth win in 48 games (4-43-1) against the All Blacks

The Canadians then thumped Samoa 33-7, with tries from Coats, Carson, Kalin Sager, Lockie Kratz and Matt Owuru, before falling 26-7 to Australia in its final Pool C outing. Canada improved to 12-51-0 against Samoa.

Tries late in the first half by Maurice Longbottom and Nigel Lawson gave Australia a 14-0 halftime lead. Josh Turner and Lawson padded the lead with tries after the break before Kratz scored a converted try to put Canada on the board.

The Canadian men lost all five outings in Dubai last week, including defeats by New Zealand (26-21) and by Samoa (24-0) in pool play. On the plus side, the Canadian men pushed the All Blacks to the limit in their opening game in Dubai, with New Zealand needing a late converted try by Fehi Fineanganofo for the win.

The Canadian women's comeback fell just short in a 19-17 loss to France in their final Pool C game Saturday.

Trailing 14-5 at the break, Canada closed the gap to 14-12 on a converted try by Carissa Norsten. After Joanna Grisez upped the French lead to 19-12, Canada's Piper Logan scored with no time remaining but Cloe Daniels missed the conversion that would have tied the score.

The Canadian women opened with a 21-14 loss to the U.S., before blanking South Africa 40-0.

Olivia Apps and Fancy Bermudez scored late tries for Canada after the Americans built a 21-0 lead. Apps, Krissy Scurfield, Alysha Corrigan, Charity Williams, Asia Hogan-Rochester and Shalaya Valenzuela scored Canada's tries against South Africa.

The other women's quarterfinals are Britain versus the U.S., Australia versus Ireland and Fiji versus France. On the men's side, it's Ireland versus New Zealand, Australia versus South Africa and Fiji versus France

The Canadian women finished fourth in Dubai after falling 26-5 to France in the Cup third-place playoff. Australia, last season's Series runner-up, edged New Zealand 26-19 to win Dubai.

South Africa won the men's event in Dubai, dispatching Argentina 12-7. New Zealand downed Fiji 17-12 to place third.

The slimmed-down sevens circuit features seven regular-season events, each featuring men's and women's competition, plus a grand final with promotion and relegation at stake.

Vancouver is the fourth stop of the season, scheduled for Feb. 23-25 after Dubai, Cape Town and Perth, Australia. The teams then go to Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore before wrapping up in Madrid May 31 to June 2.

The Canadian women finished ninth overall last season with sixth place in both Vancouver and Hong Kong their best showing.

The men's field has been cut to 12 core teams from 16 to match the women's setup as well as the Olympic competition.

Canada retained its core team status in dramatic fashion, defeating Kenya 12-7 in the relegation playoff final in May in London thanks to a last-minute try by Alex Russell. The Canadian men were forced into the playoff after finishing 14th in the season standings.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2023

The Canadian Press