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Canadian rugby 7s men advance in last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in Monaco

MONACO — Canada advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage tournament Saturday but a 17-12 loss to Britain in the Pool B finale means it will face a tougher draw in the quest for the final men's berth in the Paris Olympic field
Canada’s Josiah Morra (left) and Cooper Coats (right) tackle a Chinese player on Day 2 of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage at Louis II Stadium in Monaco on Saturday, June 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby-Mike Lee *MANDATORY CREDIT*

MONACO — Canada advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage tournament Saturday but a 17-12 loss to Britain in the Pool B finale means it will face a tougher draw in the quest for the final men's berth in the Paris Olympic field.

The Canadians snapped a 29-game losing streak with a much-needed 31-12 win Friday over Uganda before dispatching China 33-14 Saturday at Stade Louis II.

That set up a showdown with unbeaten Britain for top spot in the pool. The top two from each of the three groups plus the two best third-place finishers move on to the quarterfinals.

Twelve men’s and 12 women’s teams are competing for the last berth in the Olympic field. The fifth-ranked Canadian women have already qualified for Paris.

Canada will face Chile in quarterfinal action Sunday with the winner facing either powerful South Africa or Uganda. Britain, by virtue of its win over Canada, moved into the bottom portion of the quarterfinal draw and will take on Tonga with the winner facing either Hong Kong or Spain.

South Africa finished seventh on the elite HSBC SVNS circuit, formerly known as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, while Spain was 10th this season.

The South Africans won Olympic bronze in Rio in 2016 and have earned three HSBC SVNS season titles while finishing runner-up nine times. The Blitzboks also won this season’s opening event in Dubai.

The Canadians were relegated from the top-tier sevens series earlier this month in Madrid after a 3-36-0 campaign that ended with the lengthy losing streak as they finished last in the 12-team standings. Spain delivered the final blow in Canada’s relegation battle with a 22-14 win on June 3.

The Canada men, who placed eighth at the Tokyo Olympics, had been a core team on the top sevens circuit since 2012-13 and lifted the trophy in Singapore in 2017. Now they will have to battle their way back to the top tier.

Captain Alex Berna and Ethan Hager scored tries for Canada, which trailed Britain 12-7 at the break.

Alex Davis scored two tries and Harry Glover added a single for Britain, which came into the game with a two-point edge in points differential. Britain lost star Tom Emery to an Achilles tendon injury Friday.

Britain took the kickoff and worked its way down the field methodically, with Davis eventually breaking through the Canadian defence for a 5-0 lead.

Canada answered with Berna fending off a would-be British tackler to score, with the conversion giving Canada a 7-5 lead.

Canadian Matt Oworu, a tank at six-foot-two and 242 pounds, almost cut England's Glover in half with a punishing tackle.

Canada squandered a chance in the first half with a missed lineout near the British try-line and Glover took advantage, scoring in the corner after Canada conceded territory with a penalty.

Britain won the ball back from the second half restart and Davis scored his second, fending off a Canadian defender before touching the ball down, to increase the lead to 17-7.

Britain lost Ross McCann to a yellow card for the final 1:58 after making contact with Oworu's head in a tackle. Given McCann was the nail to Oworu's hammer, it seemed a somewhat harsh call.

Hager scored seconds later on the overlap to cut the margin to 17-12.

Canada's Josiah Morra, soaring high on the air, won the ball back from the restart with Berna attempting to power his way over the try-line only to be held up by British defenders.

Canada had a scrum and then a penalty near the British try-line as the clock went into the red. Restored to seven players, Britain won the ball back to stave off the Canadian comeback with Glover dispossessing Oworu at the breakdown.

Britain won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics and finished fourth at the Tokyo Games.

Canada has taken part in the Monaco qualifier before, beaten 14-12 by Russia in the 2016 repechage quarterfinals.

Prior to Friday, the Canadian men had not won since Dec. 10 in Cape Town — a 33-17 victory over France to finish seventh on the season’s second stop. Canada placed last in the other six events, going winless in Dubai, Perth, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Madrid produced four more losses in the relegation bracket.

The relegation fight was a product of the sevens circuit reducing the number of men’s teams to 12 from 16 to align with the women’s competition and the Olympic field.

The Paris Olympic men’s field already includes host France plus New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia, who booked their tickets by finishing in the top four of the HSBC SVNS series this season. They are joined by six regional qualification tournament winners: Uruguay (South America), Ireland (Europe), U.S. (North America), Kenya (Africa), Samoa (Oceania) and Japan (Asia).

The Americans beat Canada 24-14 in the final of the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens last August in Langford, B.C.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2024

The Canadian Press