Canada Sevens rugby: Hosts bounce back to win consolation bowl
Finished 9th overall at inaugural event
New Zealand celebrated with two renditions of the Haka after winning all six of its games at the inaugural HSBC Canada Sevens, its third title in six stops on the world circuit this season.
Canada won five of six games and finished ninth Sunday, hoisting the consolation Bowl trophy instead of the celebrated Cup. Its only blemish was Saturday's loss to Wales on a try scored with no time remaining.
Rugby sevens can be a cruel game.
The home side made its mark at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, refusing to quit in a series of thrilling last-ditch wins. But ironically Canada exits the tournament in 13th spot in the overall standings, one rung below where it started the weekend.
"I can't criticize our performances," said Canadian coach Liam Middleton. "We were very consistent. The Brazil game we were a little bit flatter [Sunday] morning but we'd had thrown everything into [Saturday]. Mentally, physically, emotionally, we threw everything into it and got a disappointment at not making the Cup [quarter-finals].
"But you win five of six games in any World Series tournament, it's an exceptional achievement."
New Zealand defeated South Africa 19-14 in the Cup final, adding to the titles it won earlier this season in Wellington and Sydney.
Delighted organizers said 60,418 fans took in the tournament over two days. Spectators got their money's worth with 45 games over the weekend. There were 942 points scored Saturday alone.
Sunday produced another festive crowd, with many in costume.
After edging France 19-17 on a John Moonlight try and Nathan Hirayama conversion with no time remaining in the Bowl final, the Canadians celebrated in front of those fans.
"There may not have been as many people here as there are maybe some other places but 30,000 people cheering for Canada, that's something special that you don't get every often in your life," said Canada's Conor Trainor.
Mike Fuailefau wore a lei when he met reporters. Adam Zaruba was cloaked in a Canadian flag. Nathan Hirayama had a Maple Leaf knotted around his neck.
Harry Jones wore a pair of black eyes, thanks to a busted beak that was broken the previous day.
Costly loss to Wales
Canada's opening game Saturday, a 26-19 loss to Wales, proved to be its undoing.
The Canadians bounced back to upset Australia 14-12, which left them needing to beat Russia by 30 points in their final pool match to qualify for the Cup quarter-finals. Canada beat Russia but the 29-12 score was not enough to avoid the consolation bracket.
Hirayama led the Canadian attack with five tries Sunday on a day that also saw 19-0 and 17-7 wins over Brazil and England, respectively. He finished tied for fourth in tournament scoring with six tries.
Rubbing salt in the wound, Wales finished seventh and moved past Canada into 12th spot in the overall standings.
And Samoa, which will challenge Canada in a last-ditch Olympic qualifying tournament in June, showed its teeth by finishing fifth in Vancouver.
Down 17-12 in the Bowl final, the Canadians profited when 18-year-old French player Theo Millet elected to keep playing rather than kick the ball into touch with no time remaining to end the game. The French were subsequently penalized near their goal-line and Canada scored.
"It's his first tournament," veteran French player Julien Candelon said of his young teammate. "We all make some errors in our career. It's his first — it's not a problem. He is here to learn."
The same thing happened against Chile at the Pan American Games, allowing Canada back into the game, and keeping it on course for the gold medal.
Coming into the home tournament, Canada had finished 13th, 11th, 11th, ninth and 14th on the five previous stops on the circuit. It has now missed out on the Cup quarter-finals twice on tiebreakers.
Australia defeated Fiji 19-12 to finish third. Samoa beat the U.S. 31-19 to win the Plate final and finish fifth while Russia downed Portugal 17-10 to take the Shield final and finish 13th.