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Canadian men’s rugby team sees progress with 10th-place finish in Vancouver

Canada moved past both Scotland and Wales in the overall Rugby Sevens points standings
Ireland’s Jack Kelly, centre, fights off Canada’s Anton Ngongo, left, and Elias Ergas, right, to score a try during HSBC Canada Sevens rugby action, in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, April 17, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A 17-7 loss to Ireland Sunday was a frustrating end for Canada at the HSBC Canada Sevens tournament but a team that had struggled recently found some confidence and managed to move up the overall series standings.

“There’s a lot of good stuff here,” said head coach Henry Paul. “We gave the crowd something to get behind, a lot of good tries, lots of good defence. We’re really working hard as a team.

“This is a springboard.”

The men won two of the three games they played Sunday and three overall counting Saturday’s victory over Spain. Canada came into Vancouver with just one win in 11 games in the last two tournaments they played.

The seven points Canada picked for finishing 10th also moved the team past both Scotland and Wales in the overall points standings for the World Rugby Seven Series. Canada is tied for 11th with New Zealand with 31 points.

Canada needs to collect as many points as possible in the final three tournaments of the year to finish among the top 14 countries and avoid being relocated off the tour. The team’s best finish this year was a seventh in Malaga, Spain.

“It’s a dogfight down there right now,” said forward Jake Thiel, one of Canada’s best players over the weekend. “We don’t want to be stuck in that bottom four.

“We know what the standings are, we’re not going to leave it to fate. We’re going to take it in our own hands. All these games matter to us.”

Argentina defeated Fiji 20-10 in the gold medal game to win its first tournament of the season.

Australia beat Samoa 21-19 in for the bronze medal.

South Africa leads the series standings with 111 points, followed by Argentina with 105 and Australia at 100.

Canada made a pair of costly mistakes against Ireland and trailed 12-0 early. Anton Ngongo scored Canada’s lone try.

Speedster Brock Webster said the team continues to learn from its mistakes.

“There’s tons of confidence,” said Webster. “We’re a young group so that confidence is only going to grow with our play.

“Yesterday, when we lost those first two games, it was frustrating, but we were able to build and come back. That’s huge. It’s when you take losses and don’t learn from it that it’s not OK. As long as we carry that over the rest of the season, I think we’ll find some great success.”

A total of 33,444 fans crowded into BC Place Stadium over the two days of the tournament.

An Easter Bunny with floppy ears was among the colourful and imaginative costumes in the crowd Sunday. There also was a pony with a blue mane, workers in hard hats and vests, three characters from the Handmaid’s Tale and several people wearing loud sport jackets decorated with Maple Leafs. A bunch of bananas sat near a pair of chickens. A herd of cattle rubbed shoulders with a flock of penguins.

Canada won one of three games Saturday, losing 26-10 to Australia and 19-14 to South Africa before beating Spain 26-10.

In Sunday’s first game a crunching goal line tackle by Alex Russell early in the first half swung the momentum as Canada scored 29 straight points for a 29-5 win over Japan. Later, Canada overcame an early deficit to defeat Scotland 26-22.

Russell’s bruising hit knocked a Japanese ball carrier out of bounds inches before he scored the game’s first points.

“It was a hell of a tackle,” said playmaker Cooper Coats, who kicked two converts in the victory. “We needed that early. We pride ourselves on our defence. We want to be that stubborn team on defence, not letting anyone through. That was just one of the examples of one of the guys putting their body on the line.”

Besides his defence, Russell scored two tries in the win. Captain Phil Berna, Thiel and Anton Ngongo also scored for Canada.

In the emotional win over Scotland, Webster scored a pair of tries and Coats kicked three converts before a loud, flag-waving crowd of 15,797. Thiel and Russell also scored tries.

“It was a special one,” said Thiel, who celebrated his try by urging the crowd to make more noise. “I think a little bit of emotion just shows how much we want this and how much we want to prove people wrong.

“This week the results have not gone our way in a couple of these games but we’re hanging in with the best teams, we’re taking these games to the wire.”

The Canadian side competing at the tournament is a young, rebuilding squad after 10 veterans retired from the sevens team that finished eighth at the Tokyo Olympics.

“As a group, I think we’re slowly gelling together,” said Russell. “We’re starting to look a bit better. We know everyone on the field can do some damage on both sides of the ball.”

—Jim Morris, The Canadian Press