Canadian men finish ninth but still make big mark at Canada Sevens rugby event

By , on March 13, 2016

capped off their day by edging France 19-17 on a John Moonlight try and Nathan Hirayama conversion with no time remaining in the Bowl final. (Photo: Rugby Canada | Twitter)
Canadian men capped off their day by edging France 19-17 on a John Moonlight try and Nathan Hirayama conversion with no time remaining in the Bowl final.
(Photo: Rugby Canada | Twitter)

VANCOUVER—Canada finished ninth, winning the consolation Bowl trophy, but still made a big impression Sunday at the inaugural HSBC Canada Sevens rugby tournament.

After going 2-1-0 Saturday, missing out on the elite Cup quarter-finals on points difference, the Canadian men won all three games Sunday. They capped off their day by edging France 19-17 on a John Moonlight try and Nathan Hirayama conversion with no time remaining in the Bowl final.

Hirayama led the Canadian attack with five tries on the day.

The New Zealand-South Africa Cup final was slated for the last match of the day.

New Zealand, with a seemingly endless supply of strike runners on its roster, dispatched Australia 28-19 to reach the Cup final here. Series leader Fiji ran out of comebacks in a 31-19 loss to South Africa in the other semifinal, much to the disappointment of a sizable number of Fiji supporters at B.C. Place stadium.

Australia defeated Fiji 19-12 to finish third.

Fiji was on the tournament’s mind because of last month’s Cyclone Winston, a Category 5 storm which was Fiji’s worst-recorded cyclone. It left more than 40 dead in its wake. Two dollars from the sale of every tournament program went to Fiji cyclone relief efforts, with the B.C. government adding $100,000 of its own.

Canada bounced back from a day of disappointment by dispatching Brazil 19-0 and England 17-7 to gain the Bowl final.

The Canadians came into the tournament 12th in the season standings, compared to No. 7 for England and No. 9 for France. Brazil was an invited team at the event.

Coming into the home tournament, Canada had finished 13th, 11th, 11th, ninth and 14th on the five previous stops on the circuit although it has twice missed out on the elite Cup quarter-finals on tiebreakers.

Organizers expected 63,000 fans to take in the tournament over two days at B.C. Place Stadium. Spectators got their money’s worth with 45 games over the weekend. There were 942 points scored Saturday alone.

Sunday produced another festive crowd again, with many in costume, although the group seemed a little more subdued than Saturday’s. The roof at B.C. Place remained closed.

The crowd showed plenty of class, clapping off every team off the pitch as the conclusion of its schedule.

It speaks volumes about the small margin of error in the sevens format that Canada had won four of five games and was playing for ninth place against a French team that had lost three of five.

“It’s a funny game isn’t it,” Canadian coach Liam Middleton said prior to the Bowl final. “The U.S.A. won two out of six last week and finished fourth (in Las Vegas). We’ve won four of five and we’re looking for that ninth place.

“It’s a brutal game but it’s a beautiful game.”

Canadian back Harry Jones was anything but a beauty, sporting a pair of black eyes after breaking a nose busted two tournaments ago on Saturday. But he did not miss a moment Sunday.

Sevens is all about placing in the top two of your pool and reaching the elite Cup quarter-finals, where you are one win from finishing in the top four.

Normally two wins will do that on Day 1. But Canada was denied on points difference here.

The Canadian posted a dramatic 14-12 win over No. 4 Australia midway through their schedule Saturday. But an opening 26-19 loss to Wales left them behind the 8-ball and, despite a 29-12 win over No. 15 Russia, the day ended in frustration as Canadians dropped into the consolation Bowl.

“It was depressing, kind of, because were so fired up to play at home,” said Hirayama.

In the Cup quarter-finals Sunday, Series leader Fiji rallied from a 19-5 deficit to defeat the U.S. 31-26 in an overtime thriller while South Africa thumped Wales 31-0, New Zealand beat Samoa 17-12 and Australia rallied to down Scotland 24-17.

Hirayama accounted for all the scoring with three tries and two conversions against Brazil.

It was an ugly win as Canada dominated possession and territory but made a string of handling errors. The Brazilians, an invited team to the tournament, lost 35-5 and 40-15 in their two previous meetings with Canada in 2002.

Canada then took care of No. 7 England. While the English came into the match holding a 32-4-2 career edge over Canada, they arrived in Vancouver on a poor run of form. England went 0-4-1 last week in Las Vegas and lost its first two matches here.

Hirayama scored on a 75-metre run down the sideline, slamming the ball down after crossing the line, with Mike Fuailefau adding two more tries.