Bowl title has Canadian Sevens oozing with confidence

It’s a tradition in international sporting events, and often a stirring moment, when they find just the right home-grown artists and presentation music for each national side. Taking Care of Business by BTO blared on the B.C. Place loudspeakers as the Langford-based Canadian team did just that in being awarded the Bowl championship trophy Sunday after going 5-1 in the inaugural Canada Sevens tournament.

It’s incredible that host Canada’s record only got it ninth place, but that’s rugby sevens, where even small mis-steps can be punished cruelly.

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“It’s rare to go 5-1 and be in the bottom eight,” said emerging Canadian player Mike Fuailefau of Victoria.

The graduate of St. Michaels University School recorded some monster moves Sunday, as Canada beat France 19-17 at the death in the thrilling Bowl final after beating Brazil 19-0 and England 17-7 earlier in the day.

The player of the tournament for Canada was University of Victoria Vikes graduate Nathan Hirayama.

“Nate put the team on his back,” said Fuailefau, after the national squad returned to Langford on Monday.

It will seem sedate by comparison when the players step back onto their training pitch at Westhills Stadium for “recovery” work on Wednesday in preparation for next month’s famous Hong Kong Sevens and also the Singapore Sevens. But Westhills is where the dream begins and where it is constructed, practice by practice and sweat bead by sweat bead. Where it led over the weekend was across the strait to the much noisier confines of B.C. Place, where a combined 60,418 fans took in the two days of competition, capped by New Zealand performing the Haka following its 19-14 victory over South Africa in the final.

“The fans were unreal. It was an amazing feeling,” said Fuailefau.

“The home crowd was a big factor for us.”

What made the weekend particularly significant for the Canadian players is that 10 of the 12 are from B.C.: Phil Mack, Sean White and Fuailefau of Victoria; Pat Kay from Duncan; UVic Vikes grads Sean Duke and Hirayama; Admir Cejvanovic from Burnaby; Conor Trainor and Zaruba of Vancouver; and Harry Jones of West Vancouver. The two Ontario players even have strong Island ties, as Lucas Hammond played for the UVic Vikes and captain John Moonlight’s club is James Bay.

“It was definitely big for the B.C. guys,” said Fuailefau.

“I had a ton of family and friends in the stands from the Island. It was the first time my mom [Cindy] has watched me play live for Canada in sevens. That was personally major for me.”

Everything this year for Canada is pointed to the last-chance Olympic qualifier for Rio from June 18-19 in Monaco, where the 12th and final berth into the 2016 Olympic Games will be decided. The two best remaining non-qualified teams are Canada and Samoa, the latter which also had a crackling tournament at B.C. Place, with a fifth-place finish capped by a 31-19 victory over the Rio-bound U.S. in the Plate final.

“We want to do well in the remaining World Series tournaments and ride that momentum into Monaco,” said Fuailefau.

Canadian head coach Liam Middleton, who resides with his family on Bear Mountain, coached Zimbabwe since 2004 before taking over the Canadian team in 2014.

“It’s amazing that you can win five of six games and not finish in the top four,” he said Sunday, following the Canada Sevens.

“I can’t criticize our performance. Our players showed great ability and character. To win five of six games . . . you can’t ask more of our guys. That [big] moment is coming for us. We believe that.”

The highly regarded Langford-based Canadian women’s team, meanwhile, is No. 2 in the world and has qualified for the Rio Olympics and is poised to be a big story this summer. The women’s Canada Sevens is at Westhills Stadium on April 16-17.

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