Canada's youth brigade arrives sooner than expected in rugby sevens

Matt Percillier of Mill Bay had no idea he and eight of his rookie buddies would be thrown into the fire so soon.

“We had not a clue — when we were playing the Olympic team in scrimmages before Tokyo to help them prepare — that we would be given a chance to play on the world stage ­ourselves in a few months,” said the ­Brentwood College graduate.

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And acquitting themselves well with a fourth-place finish for Canada on Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium in the Edmonton Sevens to follow up the sixth place the week before at B.C. Place in HSBC World Series Sevens tournaments.

“It was a learning ­experience, a classroom, for us,” said ­Percillier.

It was necessitated with the retirement post-Tokyo of the cornerstone core of Canadian players from the past decade. So the mantle has fallen to the young Island players and others in the team’s Langford’s base. They include Percillier, Brennig Prevost out of Glenlyon Norfolk School, Jack Carson from Oak Bay High, Victoria’s Ciaran Breen out of Shawnigan Lake School and Anton Ngongo from Claremont Secondary.

“This is the start of the journey to the 2024 Paris Olympics,” said Jake Thiel, one of only three players from Canada’s quarter-finalist team from the Tokyo Olympics who played in the B.C. Place and Edmonton tournaments.

“A lot of people didn’t see this [B.C. Place and Edmonton results] happening with such a young Canadian team. No one expected this of us. But the young guys put their hands up.”

It appears to be coming together for the emerging next generation.

“It was fantastic to make the Final Four in Edmonton. The boys pushed through. It’s just the start of the journey. It’s going to be a long process,” said Ngongo.

Familiarity has helped.

“We’ve been together for several years in the national training base at Langford and some of us have known each other even longer from Island play,” said Percillier.

“We’re getting that kind of no-look chemistry going. But we know we still have to earn our stripes.”

The youth brigade may even have the makings of a new ­nickname. How about the Hounds?

“The young guys were like a bunch of dogs these last two weeks,” said Thiel.

“They pushed me to work harder and be better.”

Canada went 2-1 in pool play in the 12-team Edmonton tournament and then beat Ireland 14-12 in the quarter-finals before losing 22-12 to Great Britain in the semifinals and 33-14 to Kenya in the bronze-medal game. South Africa beat Great Britain 24-12 in the final.

The Langford-based Canadian women’s team, also missing many of the veteran players from the Olympics, lost 22-12 to the U.S. in the semifinals and beat Mexico 63-5 for the bronze medal in the four-team Edmonton female tournament. Great Britain beat the U.S. 22-5 in the final.

Next up are two World Series tournaments in Dubai on Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3-4.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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