VANCOUVER — A 26-21 win over Spain brought some joy but did little to ease the sting of Canada’s earlier two losses during Saturday’s opening day of play at the at the HSBC Canada Sevens rugby tournament at BC Place Stadium.
“The first two games were a bit disappointing,” said Brock Webster, who scored the deciding try for Canada in the game’s 11th minute and also kicked a convert. “We have to be more hungry.
“We’re pretty stoked from that performance. Hopefully we can bring more momentum tomorrow.”
The win was just the second for Canada in their last 14 games. It came after a 26-10 loss to Australia and 19-14 defeat at the hands of South Africa.
Coming into the tournament, head coach Henry Paul said Canada’s goal was to reach the quarterfinals. With the two losses, the best Canada can finish is ninth. To do that, they must win all three games Sunday.
Paul said his young team remains a work in progress.
“As the season unfolds, we’re still learning a lot about ourselves,” he said. “We’re still trying to find our identity and how we play.
“Over the course of the season there have been moments when we’ve been playing some fantastic attacking rugby. There has been defending moments. We’ve got to string them together.”
A home-town crowd of 17,647 bellowed their approval as Canada built a 19-7 lead against Spain. The Canadians fell behind 21-19 in the second half before managing the win.
David Richard, Elias Ergas and Brennig Prevost also scored tries. Cooper Coats kicked a pair of converts.
Canada face Japan Sunday morning.
In the opening loss to Australia, Canada built a 10-0 lead with less than two minutes gone on tries by Alex Russell and Jake Thiel before Australia stormed back with 26 unanswered points.
In the game against South Africa, Canada trailed 12-0 at halftime then battled back for a 14-12 lead off tries from Richard and Coats before losing 19-14. Coats kicked two converts.
“We’re gutted man, we’re so disappointed with that loss,” said Thiel, who along with captain Phil Berna, is one of the few veterans remaining on the young Canadian team.
“The boys showed so much heart out there.”
A total of 10 veterans retired from the sevens team that finished eighth at the Tokyo Olympics.
Canada played strong defence against South Africa but had trouble with their throw-ins on several line outs and also coughed up the ball a couple of times.
“Simple mistakes but that’s one of the best teams in the world,” said Thiel. “We hung with them. We scared them. We scared Australia.”
Berna said the Canadians couldn’t maintain the early momentum they built against Australia.
“We have to close out games like that and learn to manage it better,” he said. “That’s kind of the thing with a young team. Things kind of get away from you sometimes. I’m proud of how we started there.”
Canada finished third in the tough Pool C with five points. Unbeaten South Africa was first with nine points while Australia (2-1-0) was second with 7.
Fiji (3-0-0) topped Pool A with nine points followed by England (1-2-0) with five. In Pool B, New Zealand had nine points from a perfect record, while Samoa (2-1-0) was second.
Argentina and France were tied on top of Pool D with eight points form 2-0-1 records.
The top two teams from each pool advance on the championship side.
Among the colourful and imaginative costumes Saturday were a group of penguins, several pink pigs, some Teletubbies, the Seven Dwarfs, complete with long grey beards, workmen in pink hard hats and vests, angels of various sizes, the whole Flintstone family and various furry creatures, many with drinks in their paws. A group of green aliens danced with some astronauts in white suits.
The Canadian men have 24 points in the first five tournaments of the World Rugby Sevens Series, leaving them tied for 13th place with Wales among the 19 teams competing.
South Africa leads the standings with 98 points after winning the first four tournaments. Australia and Argentina are tied for second with 83 points. Spain is ninth with 36 points.
Canada's best result this year was losing in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Malaga, Spain.
Richard, who missed parts of the last two years due to a knee injury, has seen steady improvement on the team.
“We’re a young team and we’re definitely building,” he said. “Each game I feel like we’re getting just a little bit better, learning a little bit more.
“I feel like it’s trending in the right direction.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2022.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press