INXS sang about thumbing your way to Vegas, dirty. But the Canadian men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams did Sin City more in the style of Elvis and Viva Las Vegas over the weekend.
Both programs, based at the Rugby Canada Centre of Excellence in Langford, brought hardware back to the West Shore from the Las Vegas Sevens tournament.
Canada got tries from John Moonlight of James Bay Athletic Association, Nanyak Dala of Oak Bay’s Castaway Wanderers and Harry Jones of West Vancouver to defeat Scotland 22-5 in the Plate final to win the consolation title on the men’s championship side.
Canada, coached by Geraint John and assisted by Kieran Crowley, lost 17-0 to New Zealand in the quarter-finals but rebounded in their next game to defeat the host Americans 24-19 in extra time to reach the Plate final.
That came after shocking fabled past world power Fiji the previous week to win the Bowl final for the consolation-side title at the Wellington Sevens in New Zealand.
“It was a fantastic two weeks for us,” said Mike Chu, general-manager of operations and high performance for Rugby Canada.
“This was the best back-to-back results we’ve had in the [IRB] world series [of tournaments]. We showed our fitness. We have a core group of players that offer continuity. But there is not a lot of depth behind them and we want to build that up.”
Players from Island teams on the Canadian squad included Moonlight, Thyssen De Goede and Jeff Hassler from James Bay, Sean Duke and Nathan Hirayama of the University of Victoria Vikes and Ciaran Hearn, Lucas Hammond and Dala of CW. The veteran warhorse Phil Mack of the Vikes was injured.
Rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut at Rio 2016 and nations are vying to remain in the world top-15, which is fully funded for travel and accommodation expenses by the IRB. Canada, ranked No. 11, may have enhanced its standing by its performances over the last two weekends in Wellington and Las Vegas.
Despite the encouraging results, much work needs to be done. As soon as Chu returned from Las Vegas to his Langford offices Monday, he went to the tape machine to break down the quarter-final loss to New Zealand.
Meanwhile, depth is not a problem for Canada on the women’s side.
It was all Canada all the time in the Las Vegas women’s final with coach John Tait’s Canadian Maple Leaf Reds defeating the Morgan Williams-helmed Maple Leaf Blacks 24-0. Canada displayed why it is favoured for a women’s medal at Rio 2016 by sending both its entries into the final with Montreal’s Bianca Farella and Fergus, Ontario’s Brittany Benn of the Maple Leaf Reds listed as the players of the match in the final.
“This gave twice as many of our players exposure on the big stage than normal,” said head coach Tait, of the non-IRB Vegas women’s tournament that allowed split teams.
“We’ll be whittling down the roster to prepare for Hong Kong and China [next month] and the World Cup in June at Moscow,” added Tait, on Monday as he arrived back at the Victoria airport.
The Canadian men and women will now train at Westhills Stadium and Goudy Field in preparation for the granddaddy marquee event of the sevens season — the famed Hong Kong Sevens from March 22-24.
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