Canada struggles on home turf at men’s rugby sevens stop

The hosting part was a success, even if the host team wasn’t.

A record 77,096 colourfully clad fans went through the turnstiles over two days of the Canada Sevens rugby tournament at B.C. Place.

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The Langford-based Canadian team, however, could muster only a 2-3-1 record in a bitterly disappointing 14th-place finish, topped with a 21-15 loss Sunday to Samoa, following a 19-0 Canadian loss against Scotland and 31-19 victory over France.

“Gutted,” is how Canadian player Connor Braid of Victoria described his feelings after the last-play loss to the Americans on the first day that swung the whole tournament awry for Canada.

The Oak Bay High grad couldn’t have been any less gutted on Sunday as Canada followed its 1-1-1 opening-pool record with a 1-2 outing on the second day.

“I’m incredibly disappointed with the whole thing [Canadian results], really,” said Canadian head coach Damian McGrath.

“It’s mental issues for us. Every game that did not go our way has been of our making. Our mistakes cause [opposition] tries. USA and Kenya were in one of the semifinal games. These are teams we can and have beaten. It shows that the difference between success and failure is close . . . and at the moment we are pushing ourselves to the negative side of it.”

In a weekend highlight for Canada, former University of Victoria Vikes great Nathan Hirayama became the fifth-leading all-time scorer on the World Series circuit.

Island players performing for Canada were Braid and fellow-Victorians Luke McCloskey and Mike Fuailefau, both St. Michaels University School grads, former Vikes Hirayama and Lucas Hammond with current UVic star Isaac Kaay, Duncan’s Pat Kay out of Cowichan Secondary, and John Moonlight from James Bay Athletic Association.

Despite the results on the pitch, the Canadian players and coach were impressed by the raucous atmosphere in the building.

“It’s absolutely awesome,” said McGrath.

“If you can’t play to your best in conditions like that, then when can you? The crowd was our eighth man and played a big role for us. I’m disappointed we could not give them the result they wanted.”

Braid concurred: “It’s unreal. It gets you hyped up and pumped.”

Canadian captain Harry Jones said the crowd stayed with Canada.

“It was unbelievable. We hoped to impress a little bit more [but] they stuck behind us the entire way through the ups and downs,” he said.

Playing at home was especially meaningful for the B.C. players.

“This tournament is definitely exciting, especially for the players from B.C., but all the Canadian players,” said Duncan's Kay.

“It’s definitely a highlight we have circled in red on the calendar,” added Hirayama, during training.

Even with the large number of Island fans who came over on the ferries, there were almost as many Fiji flags than even Maple Leafs waving as thousands of fans of Fijian descent cheered on their beloved defending Rio Olympic champions.

They weren’t disappointed as Fiji defeated Kenya 31-12 in the final Sunday to win the Canada Sevens. The Rio Olympic bronze-medallist South Africans defeated the Americans 29-7 in the bronze-medal game. The U.S. was coming off a home-field championship last week in the Las Vegas Sevens.

The women’s Canada Sevens, hosted by the 2016 Olympic bronze-medallist Canadian team, will run May 12-13 at Westhills Stadium in Langford.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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