World Sevens Series: Canada looks to deliver on home soil
Canadians currently 12th in the overall standings
After a frustrating 14th-place finish in Las Vegas, the Canadian rugby sevens team looks to deliver on home soil this weekend as the HSBC World Sevens Series makes its debut in Canada.
Liam Middleton's squad, currently 12th in the standings, has shown glimpses of brilliance this season but has yet to put it together in one tournament.
Las Vegas was a microcosm of the season, an emotional roller-coaster with more downs than ups.
After losing 33-7 to powerful South Africa, the Canadian men showed their mettle in rallying from a 26-7 deficit to tie the U.S. 26-26. That left the Canadians needing a win over Wales, a lower-ranked team it had beaten 32-21 in Sydney, to move into the elite Cup quarter-finals. Down 17-0 at the half, Canada tried to mount another comeback but fell short and lost 17-10.
"We were mentally a little beaten up after that," said Middleton.
Consigned to consolation play, Canada lost 19-10 to Russia, a team it had thumped by a combined total of 90-12 in its two previous meetings this season, before rallying to defeat England 24-7 in the Shield semifinal. The tournament ended in a 24-12 loss to Samoa, a team it could well face in the Olympic repechage qualifying tournament in June.
"Good pieces and then just some poor pieces," Middleton said of the Shield final performance against Samoa.
"We have to get better at mastering those one or two moments that push you from Cup semi to Shield semi," he added.
There were good points. Conor Trainor made some lung-busting runs. Phil Mack showed his guile and captain John Moonlight hit hard.
The margin of success is razor-thin on the World Series circuit. Canada went 1-4-1 and finished 14th. The Americans, who stand fifth in the overall standings, were 2-3-1 and finished fourth.
Admittedly the U.S. faced stiffer opposition in making the Cup semifinals. But the Americans, who also lost to South Africa in pool play, gave themselves a chance to finish high up the ladder by doing what Canada couldn't, beating Wales when it counted.
"When we just play our stuff and play our game, we're outstanding. It's just closing the bandwidth of playing well and playing badly, that we're really working hard at," said Middleton.
The Canadian coach, a native of Zimbabwe, was buoyed by the fact that for the first time in his tenure the team emerged from a tournament without injury. He also knows his team will be lifted by more than 56,000 fans at B.C. Place Stadium over the weekend.
"It's a big event ... the guys are really excited about getting back to Vancouver and just everything that comes with playing at home. We saw at the Pan Am Games that when we play at home in Canada it's a phenomenal experience.
"My philosophy is simple: We have to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is we have to deliver on the field. Everything else is peripheral."
Middleton says there is a mood of optimism, and not just because they are playing at home.
"Because we feel we're doing the right things. We feel that we're good enough to be a Cup semifinalist. We genuinely believe that we've got all the makings of achieving that. We're just not getting that one per cent over the line that gets us to that Cup semifinal.
"I feel a real sense for myself and from the players that that's going to come, because we're doing it, we're practising it, we're close to it. When it happens, it's going to be good for us. But right now we're one per cent off that big prize which we're aiming for.
"I guess sometimes that one per cent is just being at home and the guys having that chance to rally share what they're all about, share all the work that they've put in and share all the talent they have. They get an opportunity this weekend to out that out there."
Canada is the sixth stop of the 10-event circuit. Fiji leads the standings, followed by New Zealand and Australia.
The good news is Canada won't have to wait long for some revenge after being drawn in Pool B with Australia, No. 13 Wales and No. 15 Russia.
Series leader Fiji is in Pool A with Kenya, Samoa and Portugal. Pool C features South Africa, Argentina, Scotland and Brazil while Pool D is New Zealand, the U.S., France and England.