Canada’s men subdued at Singapore Sevens

Singapore, the site in 2017 of Canada’s only men’s rugby sevens World Series tournament championship, brings back memories of glory for the Langford-based national side.

The 2019 Singapore Sevens tournament was more subdued for Canada in offering up two losses to start and two wins to close on opening day.

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The Canadian team knew it faced a daunting task in opening Saturday against defending 2016 Rio Olympic champion Fiji and Olympic bronze medallist South Africa.

Any thoughts of a repeat of Canada’s shocking 26-19 upset of Fiji at B.C. Place in March were roundly dashed as the flash-quick Fijians ran away from Canada 50-12. That was followed by the South Africans showing why their nickname is the Blitzboks by, indeed, blitzing the Canucks 36-0.

Canada, however, recovered for a 33-10 victory over Scotland to end pool play after the mercurial Scots had stunned Fiji 19-12 earlier. Mike Fuailefau of Victoria celebrated his 50th appearance in a World Series tournament by off- loading a pass to captain Harry Jones for a key try that got the Canadians going. Former University of Victoria Vikes star Nathan Hirayama scored a try and added two conversions. It wasn’t, however, enough to get into the championship quarter-finals.

Canada closed out the day with a 33-14 consolation-side win against Japan to advance to the Challenge Trophy semifinals today against France.

That put some salve on last week’s 15th-place performance at the Hong Kong Sevens, which Canadian head coach Damian McGrath described as “without a doubt, the worst tournament we’ve played since I began coaching Canada sevens.”

Added McGrath after the lacklustre outing in Hong Kong: “Our lack of pre-season [because of a two-month labour dispute at Westhills Stadium between the players and Rugby Canada] caught up with us. We will regroup for Singapore.”

McGrath was as good as his word Saturday.

Connor Braid of Victoria is having a monster season, and the Oak Bay High and James Bay product led the individual World Series DHL Performance standings heading into Singapore.

Also on the Canadian team in Singapore is Fuailefau’s fellow SMUS-grad Luke McCloskey of Victoria, Isaac Kaay of the UVic Vikes and Matt Mullins of James Bay. Regular performer Pat Kay of Duncan is injured.

Singapore is the eighth of 10 2018-19 World Series tournaments, through which the top-four teams will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Heading into Singapore, those spots were held down by the U.S., New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa.

So there was a lot at stake in the Singapore championship quarter-finals in which South Africa was set to play Samoa, with New Zealand facing Fiji, the U.S. playing Argentina, and Australia meeting England.

The route to Tokyo 2020 for No. 12 Canada will be through the Americas and Caribbean regional Olympic qualifying tournament July 6-7 in George Town, Cayman Islands.

The top-four women’s teams in their 2018-19 World Series season will also advance to Tokyo 2020. The Langford-based and 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Canadians are third in the standings after three of six World Series events and left their Westhills Stadium training base Saturday for the fourth tournament next weekend in Kitakyushu, Japan.

Island fans will get a first-hand taste of the Olympic qualifying stakes when the fifth women’s World Series tournament, the Canada Sevens, swings into a revamped 6,000-seat Westhills Stadium on May 11-12.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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