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Langford-based Canadian men's sevens open Olympic qualifier with win

Canada knocks off Uganda
Canada players huddle before their 31-12 win over Uganda on Day 1 of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage, an Olympic qualifier, at Louis II Stadium in Monaco on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby-Mike Lee

The Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team took a small, but vital, step toward the 2024 Paris Olympics as the last-chance qualifying tournament opened Friday at Stade Louis II in Monaco.

Beating Pool B minnow Uganda wasn’t an option for Canada, it was pretty much mandatory, and Canada did what was required as a first step with a 31-12 victory over the Ugandans.

Matthew Oworu of Victoria Pacific Pride and captain Phil Berna scored two tries each for Canada while Cooper Coats, on an assist from Oworu, had a try and kicked three converts. Coats, along with Jack Carson of Victoria, were the top-two points scorers for Canada in the just-completed HSBC World Series season.

It was a much needed lift for a Canadian team that had lost its last 29 games in the 12-team World Series circuit and was relegated to the second-tier Challenger Series for next season.

Coats, Carson, Oworu, Berna and company face another essentially must-win game this morning in the Olympic qualifier against China before concluding pool play later today against Great Britain, which is one of the favoured teams. Two wins in pool play should get Canada into the medal round Sunday featuring the quarter-finals, semifinals and final.

Great Britain opened Pool B play Friday by overcoming a 12-0 deficit to record a 35-19 win over China.

Only the winner of the tournament will advance to the Paris Games as the 12th and final Olympic qualifying team. It will be a massive challenge with elite rugby nations such as Great Britain and South Africa, the respective silver and bronze medallists in the 2016 Rio Olympics, also in the last-chance qualifier and looking for the lone berth out of Monaco to fill the final slot in the 2024 Olympic tournament next month at the Stade de France.

“We are aware of the challenges we will face and are ready to conquer them as they arise,” said Canada head coach Sean White, the former sevens and XVs standout for Canada out of Oak Bay Secondary and JBAA, in a statement.

Canada was a quarter-finalist in the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021 with now-retired veterans such as UVic Vikes great Nathan Hirayama, Connor Braid of Victoria and Harry Jones of North Vancouver. A rebuilding Canadian side was redirected through the last-chance qualifier this time around for Paris 2024 by placing second to the U.S. in the direct North American and Caribbean Olympic qualifying tournament held last summer at Starlight Stadium.

The Olympics-bound world top-five Canadian women’s sevens team, meanwhile, continues its training in Langford for Paris. The Canadian women advanced by winning the North American and Caribbean Olympic qualifying tournament last August at Starlight Stadium.

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