The day on the pitch, however, didn’t go well for the host nation as Canada was beaten 36-7 by Rio Olympic bronze-medallist South Africa in the quarter-finals and before falling 12-5 to Argentina in the fifth-seventh place game.
The Langford-based Canadian side had gone 2-1 in pool play a day earlier. There were more than 38,000 fans at B.C. Place on each of Saturday and Sunday.
“I thought when we were healthy … we gave a glimpse of what this group is capable of,” said Canadian coach Damian McGrath, in a statement. “We appreciated every minute of support the crowd gave us and I hope they appreciate what we did.”
Five University of Victoria Vikes players or alumni were on the roster for the host team — current Vikes Isaac Kay and Lucas Hammond and UVic alumni Luke Bradley of Port Alberni, Pat Kay of Duncan and Nathan Hirayama. Also on the Canada roster from the Island were St. Michaels University School grads and Castaway Wanderers Mike Fuailefau and Luke McCloskey.
The veteran Hirayama tied Phil Mack of Victoria for the most career points (973) by a Canadian player in the HSBC World Series. But it didn’t salve the sting of fading on the final day.
“It’s tough. We didn’t finish the chances we had. Not making any excuses. I’m proud of the boys,” said Canadian captain Harry Jones.
“The boys put their hands up and put in a gutsy effort. But you don’t play the game to come seventh.”
Jones added McGrath has done a lot of work — “simple stuff” — during training at Westhills Stadium in Langford and it’s starting to show.
It was encouraging for Canadian rugby to see a national men’s side finally moving up the world rankings, and not the other way. Reaching the quarter-final stage at home over the weekend lifted Canada two spots to No. 10 in the world and follows making the semifinals of the Wellington Sevens and quarter-finals of the USA Sevens in Las Vegas.
This comes after the Canadian men failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and lost its $850,000 annual funding from the federal Own the Podium program. The turnstile bonanza over the weekend at B.C. Place should help refill those depleted coffers.
The boost has also been much needed after Rugby Canada has taken other hits recently on the men’s side by going 1-4 in the XVs Americas Championship and falling to a world ranking of No. 23. Canada fielded a young, developmental side against veteran South American sides such as Uruguay and Brazil. But they were Test matches, nonetheless, and are now being reflected in Canada’s lowest-ever world ranking.
“We’ve seen some extremes lately, but that’s life. I understand the frustrations and why people are disappointed [about the recent XVs results]. I’m disappointed, too,” said Gareth Rees of Victoria, director of commercial and program relations for Rugby Canada.
“But we are continuing to build, and this weekend was a great example of that, as our sevens team and home crowd gave us some real moments to savour.”
THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS: Former Canadian captain and four-time World Cup player Rees was inducted with the charter inaugural class into the new Rugby Canada Hall of Fame along with Al Charron, Rod Snow, Ro Hindson, Robert Spray, Mike Luke and Gillian Florence over the weekend in Vancouver. The Hall of Fame will be located in the Al Charron National Training Centre under construction in Langford, which will feature a museum showcasing the history of rugby in Canada.