Young Island players show promise for Canada in rugby sevens tourney

The kids were sixth but, with apologies to The Who, they look to be alright.

There was an enticing peek-into-the-future moment Sunday at B.C. Place when Oak Bay High-graduate Jack Carson scored a try and Glenlyon Norfolk School graduate Brenning Prevost converted to give Canada a 7-5 half-time lead against the U.S. It didn’t last, as Canada lost 26-7 to the Americans in the fifth-place game of the HSBC World Sevens Series rugby ­tournament. The new players in red are still green, but it provided a glimpse into tomorrow for the Langford-based Canadian team.

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With the cornerstone players from the past decade retiring recently post-Tokyo Olympics, the mantle has fallen to young Island players Carson, Prevost, Ciaran Breen of Victoria out of Shawnigan Lake School, Matt Percillier from Mill Bay and Brentwood College and Anton Ngongo of Victoria, out of Claremont Secondary, among the nine debutantes for Canada.

It was strange not to see retired veterans Connor Braid of Victoria, University of Victoria Vikes legend Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones of North Vancouver, Justin Douglas of Abbotsford and Conor Trainor of Vancouver on the B.C. Place pitch.

The young Canadians were thrown into the deep end. Not only were the five stalwarts of the past decade retired, the non-retired Canadian Olympic team players Mike Fuailefau of Victoria, Pat Kay of Duncan, UVic Vikes alumnus Lucas Hammond, Matt Mullins and Theo Sauder sat out the Vancouver tournament to recuperate following the pandemic grind of the Olympics in Japan.

That left only three of the players from the Canadian quarter-finalist team in the Tokyo Olympics — Jake Thiel, Andrew Coe, Phil Berna — in the lineup at B.C. Place and for next weekend for the World Series Edmonton Sevens at Commonwealth Stadium.

Captain Berna said the future is in good hands.

“I think we have a good foundation,” Berna told the Canadian Press.

“It’s exciting to have depth. We have guys at home who didn’t get selected for this tournament and I know they are champing at the bit. I think we’re looking good for 2024 [Paris Olympics], which is our next big milestone.”

Assistant captain Thiel, from Victoria, also senses a strong foundation: “The new guys are so hungry and their talent level is so high. The Pacific Pride [Langford-based national U-23 development team] has done a great job of feeding these guys into the senior program. We are going to have the kind of depth we’ve never had before.”

But it will take time as the youthfulness of the Canadian team was evident in placing sixth among the 12 teams as South Africa swept to the gold, Kenya the silver and Great Britain the bronze at B.C. Place. South Africa beat upstart Kenya 38-5 in the championship game. Canada went 2-1 in pool play and lost to Great Britain in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, the Canadian women’s team blanked Mexico 48-0 Sunday to finish third in the four-team female field. Great Britain defeated the U.S. 34-12 in the final.

Familiar veteran Canadian names were also sitting out the B.C. Place Series Sevens female tournament, including two-time Olympians Ghislaine Landry, Charity Williams and Bianca Farella.

Victoria native and Queen’s University grad Olivia Apps, taking the captain’s armband long worn by Landry, really stepped up in a leadership role and had a grittily inspiring weekend as the Tokyo Olympian made some big plays to lead a debutante-loaded Canadian group that included UVic Vikes players Ella O’Regan and Renee Gonzalez.

Next up is the Edmonton Sevens at Commonwealth Stadium this coming Saturday and Sunday.

— With a file from the Canadian Press

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