The opening day of the Paris Sevens couldn’t have gone much worse for the Langford-based Canadian rugby team with three consecutive losses in pool play. But it ended better with three straight victories on the consolation side Sunday for ninth place as Canada bested Wales 31-12, England 41-28 and Ireland 28-12.
It was a confidence boost with the North American, Latin American and Caribbean Olympic qualifier for Tokyo 2020 up next on July 6-7 in the Cayman Islands.
It also showed Canada can win without star Connor Braid of Victoria, who was second behind leader Vilimoni Botitu of Fiji in the DFH Impact Player season standings, but is out for the season with a dislocated collarbone incurred the week before in the London Sevens.
Sunday was the momentum shift Canada needed. The national team lost two months of training last fall at Westhills Stadium to a labour dispute with Rugby Canada, then head coach Damian McGrath was let go. Braid’s injury only adds to Canada’s woes. But Sunday’s rebound seemed to bear out Braid’s confidence in his teammates.
“I have utmost confidence in this group and strongly believe the boys can do it and qualify for the Olympics,” said Braid.
Canada may have just found its Braid replacement with a breakout performance Sunday by Josiah Morra of Toronto, who had several spectacular field-length plays.
Mike Fuailefau of Victoria and former University of Victoria star Nathan Hirayama also had notable weekends. Also in the lineup were Luke McCloskey of Victoria and Isaac Kaay of the UVic Vikes.
The top four teams in the 2019 World Series standings qualified directly for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.S. have locked up those berths. The latter is a big break for Canada, which now will not have to face the Americans in the North American and Caribbean qualifier.
Interim head coach Henry Paul, in his first World Series tournament as Canadian bench boss, guided Canada into the quarter-finals of the London Sevens the week before, and now ninth in Paris.