Tries hat-trick by Victoria's Braid leads Canada into Tokyo Olympic quarter-finals

It was a hat-trick to the Elite Eight.

Three tries by Connor Braid of Victoria, in the 36-12 victory Monday over host Japan, saved Canada in the men’s rugby sevens tournament of the Tokyo Olympics and gave it a quarter-final berth against New Zealand (3-0) early this morning.

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Langford-based Canada (1-2) advanced to the quarter-finals on point-differential tie-breaker, by two points over Ireland (1-2).

“We [gave] ourselves a shot,” said Braid.

It looked as if a near field-length last-second converted try by Japan in defeat would prove costly for Canada in the tiebreaker. It almost did as Canada left itself the narrowest of leeway in the tiebreaker.

“The last try at the end really hurt us,” said Braid.

But it didn’t prove fatal.

“We got back to playing like us,” said Braid, of the victory over Japan.

“We set out to do a job and did that for the most part. It was about going through the process and doing the little things right. Get ball. Keep ball. Possession was key for us. We just got our first win at the Olympics. We’re not the fastest or biggest team but we have good skills and great athletes around the park. We knew we had to win and we knew we had to score points. We executed the game plan right and then hopefully [awaited the Ireland outcome in another pool] and things go our way.”

They did.

Canada almost did not overcome the hole it dug for itself in a disastrous opening day Sunday in which it lost 24-0 to Rio 2016 Olympics silver-medallist Great Britain (2-1) and 24-12 to defending Olympic-champion Fiji (3-0).

“We just didn’t play very well on Sunday. We’re capable of so much more than we put out,” said Oak Bay High graduate Braid.

“There were some glimpses against Fiji but it wasn’t the full package. We screwed around with our possessions too much. Sevens is a tough game, it’s really sapping, even if you’re a great defensive unit, to defend minutes on end.”

Braid took a pass from fellow-Victorian and St. Michaels University School-graduate Mike Fuailefau to open scoring for Canada against Japan. Pat Kay of Duncan, a graduate of ­Cowichan Secondary, also scored a try.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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