New Zealand downs Canada in women's sevens rugby final

Paint it Black.

How many times have fans heard that before in rugby?

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The spine-tingling sounds of the Haka drifted across Langford on Sunday night as New Zealand performed its traditional victory ritual at Westhills Stadium following the Black Ferns' 17-7 win over host Canada in the championship game of the 2017 women's Canada Sevens.

"It never gets old," said Kiwi captain Tyla Nathan-Wong.

"To be able to perform the Haka in front of a crowd like this was truly special."

More than 6,000 fans attended over the two days of the tournament. They included Nathan-Wong's extended Greater Victoria family, including her cousin and Canada U-19 and St. Michaels University School standout player Quinn Ngawati, who with his family performed their own Haka in the stands for the Kiwi players following the victory.

The 2016 Rio Olympics silver-medallist New Zealand team was full value for the Canada Sevens championship. The result assured the streak continued of the host team having never won a women's HSBC World Series tournament.

But this was Canada's best showing in its home tournament after disappointing fifth- and sixth-place finishes the previous two years in the Canada Sevens, both also at Westhills Stadium.

"The storyline going in was our fifth and sixth places the past two years . . . so we are moving in the right direction with second place," said a philosophical Canadian coach John Tait of Mill Bay, who guided the Canadian squad to the Olympic bronze medal last summer in Rio.

"It was a frustrating final. We had trouble interpreting what was being called [by the referee]. New Zealand is the series champion and a tough team to beat. The Kiwis are relentless. It was tough to get any momentum going."

Canadian captain Ghislaine Landry concurred.

"In most breakdowns, we lost possession," said the native of Toronto.

"And rugby is a game of possession. When you can't play with the ball, it's hard to go forward."

Canada is now tied for second with Australia in the World Series standings after placing sixth in Dubai, first in Sydney, third in Las Vegas, second in Kitakyushu, Japan, and now second at home in Langford.

"In five tournaments, we've been in three finals," noted Tait.

The Black Ferns have sewn up the season championship heading into the final tournament June 24-25 in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The Canadian squad, centralized in Greater Victoria, will likely finish second or third on the season depending on its placing in France.

"We have all the tools to beat New Zealand," said Canadian player Bianca Farella of Montreal.

"It's a matter of putting it all together. We've come close. "There is just inches between the top four teams in the world on any given day."

Canada defeated Australia 17-10 in a pulsating semifinal victory highlighted by a sizzling field-length run for a try down the wing by Charity Williams of Toronto and some edgy Canadian goal-line defence.

"Great defence wins games. We stuck to our roles," said Williams.

It was the third time this year that Canada has defeated the defending Olympic champions.

"The Aussies always give us a good push," said Williams.

"Beating them this season feels great. I have no complaints about that."

Canada's wing play, by the jet-fast pair of Williams and and Julia Greenshields, proved conclusive in the semifinal.

"Our team's speed and fitness is a big advantage for us, not just for scoring tries but also for chasing down balls," said Greenshields, who scored a key try against the Aussies.

Australia rebounded to defeat France 26-12 in the bronze-medal game.

Canada went 3-0 in pool play Saturday and began Sunday with a 33-5 quarter-final victory over England in a reprise of the Olympic bronze-medal game from Rio as Landry scored two tries and kicked three converts.

This weekend was the first chance for Canadian fans to watch the national sevens team play live since its bronze-medal performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Caroline Crossley of Victoria, Greenshields from Sarnia, Ont., and Breanne Nicholas from Blenheim, Ont., joined nine veterans from the 2016 Olympics bronze-medallist team on this weekend's Canadian roster. They included Brittany Benn, Ashley Steacy, Hannah Darling, Natasha Watcham-Roy, Megan Lukan and the ageless Jennifer Kish.

The 2017 World Series begins the quadrennial leading to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, 2019 Lima Pan Am Games and 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

SCRUM NOTES: In attendance Sunday at Westhills Stadium were NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver . . . Langford mayor Stew Young was presented on-field with a framed Canadian team Rio Olympic jersey between games . . . "Who imagined this five years ago?" said Young, about the growth of the Rugby Canada Centre of Excellence, which has been established in Langford.

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