New Canada captain Phil Berna, one of only three returnees in the Edmonton Sevens tournament today from Canada’s quarter-finalist team in the Tokyo Olympics, listened and learned.
“I took a lot from their individual styles and picked the best pieces from all the former team leaders such as Harry Jones, Nathan Hirayama, John Moonlight and Connor Braid,” said Berna.
The cornerstones of the national team the past decade — Victoria’s Braid, UVic Vikes great Hirayama, Jones, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor —retired following the Olympics in Tokyo.
With the newly-minted captainship comes added responsibilities off the pitch for Berna.
“There are a few more interviews and photo opps than I’m used to,” he said, by phone Friday from Edmonton.
The nine youth replacements on the national side — including Island players Jack Carson, Ciaran Breen, Brennig Prevost, Anton Ngongo and Matt Percillier — are getting their chance again this weekend at Commonwealth Stadium after Canada placed sixth out of 12 teams last weekend in the first HSBC World Series Sevens tournament at B.C. Place.
Canadian Olympic team players Mike Fuailefau of Victoria, Pat Kay of Duncan, UVic Vikes alumnus Lucas Hammond, Matt Mullins and Theo Sauder have not retired but are sitting out the Edmonton and Vancouver tournaments because the Tokyo experience, an Olympics amid a pandemic, proved so draining.
That leaves only Berna, Jake Thiel of Victoria and Andrew Coe as the returnees from the Tokyo Olympic team.
“These young guys getting their chance now are the new base of the program as we take our first couple of steps to Paris 2024 [next Summer Olympics],” said Berna.
It’s best just to throw them into the fire, he added: “You can’t tell them everything. You have to let the young guys learn for themselves.”
As they did in pre-Tokyo scrimmages in Langford against the Olympic team.
“We were, of course, dialed-in ahead of the Olympics and it did not go well for the younger group. I’m sure it was a wake-up call for some of them,” said Berna.
“But they learned from the experience and the young guys brought a lot to the table last weekend at B.C. Place and really showed their development and emerging composure.”
They will need to again in Edmonton, where Canada opens today in group play against South Africa, Hong Kong and Mexico.