Canadian men's rugby 7s reaches Olympic quarter-finals after win over Japan
Team advances on point differential in debut Games to face New Zealand
A hat trick from Connor Braid and a 36-12 victory over Japan was just enough for Canada's men's rugby sevens team to reach the quarter-finals in its first Olympics.
Canada (1-2) dropped its first two matches at Tokyo 2020 to Great Britain (2-1) and Fiji (3-0), who both qualified for the quarter-finals from Pool B. The top two teams in each of the three pools advance to the quarter-finals, with the final two spots awarded to the remaining teams with the best records.
Canada's point differential of -14 was enough to crack the top eight. Ireland also finished with a 1-2 record, but a -16 point differential. The Canadians will face New Zealand, who finished first overall in pool play, in the quarter-finals at 4:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
New Zealand and Argentina were the top teams from Pool B, while South Africa and the United States finished at the top of Pool C. Australia was the other third-place team to reach the quarter-finals.
WATCH | Canadian men's 1st Olympic rugby win sends them into quarter-finals:
It's been a long journey to the Olympics for the veteran Canadian men's squad, who missed out on qualification for Rio five years ago.
But the team's final pool match at Tokyo 2020 offered a glimpse at the attacking prowess the squad has shown in flashes on the international circuit — and could be the spark it needs to push for a medal.
A deft one-armed offload from Mike Fuailefau set up Braid for the opening try midway through the first half against Japan (0-3). Co-captain Nate Hirayama then executed a difficult conversion to make it a 7-0 lead.
Connor Braid takes it to the corner to give Canada their first score of the match against Japan 🏉<br><br>🇨🇦Canada 5-0 Japan 🇯🇵<br><br>Watch live: <a href="https://t.co/FBSTpkMEXW">https://t.co/FBSTpkMEXW</a> <a href="https://t.co/VTmtxvMPyb">pic.twitter.com/VTmtxvMPyb</a>—@CBCOlympics
Braid then scored his second of the match after a near-identical offload from Justin Douglas. Hirayama couldn't convert that try as Canada took a 12-0 lead.
A high tackle by Japan led to a yellow card and a man advantage for the Canadians. Theo Sauder made the most of the overlap to score Canada's third try of the half, and a Hirayama conversion made it 19-0.
Kazushi Hano scored for Japan to open the second half and cut the lead to 19-5. But Jones completed his hat trick shortly thereafter on a pass from co-captain Harry Jones to make it 24-5.
Connor Braid 🇨🇦 stretches Canada's lead over Japan with his THIRD score of the match 🏉🏉🏉<br><br>Watch live: <a href="https://t.co/FBSTpkMEXW">https://t.co/FBSTpkMEXW</a> <a href="https://t.co/m1DlTf7inN">pic.twitter.com/m1DlTf7inN</a>—@CBCOlympics
After more sustained possession, Douglas lofted a deft skip pass to Phil Berna, who held off a Japanese defender to touch it down and extend the lead to 29-5. Douglas then scored a try of his own, taking his time to touch it down under the posts so Pat Kay could convert easily and make it 36-5.
Japan's captain Chihito Matsui took it quickly off the restart to score a try, which was subsequently converted for the final score of the match.
Women's tournament to follow
Canada's women's rugby sevens squad, who won bronze in Rio in 2016, will look to return to an Olympic podium when its tournament begins. Canada opens up against Brazil on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET, followed by Fiji on Thursday at 3:30 a.m. ET and France at 8:30 p.m. ET.
"We know Brazil is going to come out firing. They have a couple of speedsters and they're feisty and they're going to fight for every inch," Canadian captain Ghislaine Landry told CBC Sports on July 19. "So we know for us, that's actually a really good game for us to start with because we have to be on and we have to be ready to go."
Landry, the all-time leader in points scored on the World Rugby Sevens Series, also praised Fiji's ball-handling skills.
"We really have to be turned on and play our game and not try to play their style, because that's the tendency when you come up against an opponent like that," Landry said.
Canada's final opponent in pool play will likely be its toughest, as France has been one of the strongest teams on the international circuit in recent years.
"We've gone head to head with them in big games before, so that will be familiar, luckily," Landry said.
"It's going to be a good game and it's going to be a fight, but we know what we need to do."