Rugby-Sevens

John Moonlight, rugby sevens captain, leads Canada by example

Captain John Moonlight will lead Canada in its bid to defend the Pan American gold it won four years ago in Guadalajara when men's rugby sevens made its Games debut.

Intense Ontario native usually makes something special happen

Canadian captain John Moonlight us the undisputed lead of a talented rugby sevens team. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

It's hard not to look at John Moonlight's legs when he runs. Slabs of thigh muscle shift like tectonic plates as he accelerates.

And when he arrives at his destination, the intense Canadian rugby sevens captain usually makes something special happen.

"John's a phenomenal person, first and foremost," said Canadian coach Liam Middleton, a native of Zimbabwe who has coached around the world. "He's one of the most exceptional people I've met in my rugby career. Fantastic leader, a guy of high great integrity. Huge work rate."

And Middleton says Moonlight brings those high standards onto the field.

"He's the best player at his position in the world, I believe that. Technically, tactically, physically, he has the full package. You pick a world sevens [team] regularly, he's the guy you want in your team."

Moonlight will lead Canada in its bid to defend the Pan American gold it won four years ago in Guadalajara when men's rugby sevens made its Games debut. Women's sevens will also be featured in Toronto for the first time at the Games.

Both sevens events will take place July 11-12 at BMO Field.

The Canadian men defeated Argentina 26-24 in the final four years ago. Their main rival this time around will be the surging Americans who defeated Middleton's team in a regional Olympic qualifier in June, consigning Canada to a last-chance world repechage in its bid to qualify for Rio.

The Americans finished sixth overall on the HSBC Sevens World Series standings this season while the Canadians were ninth. Argentina, not to be counted out, was eighth.

"With it being in Toronto, home crowd, our guys want to win gold," said Middleton. "And we're certainly going to be prepared to do that."

Family will be in stands

That's especially true for Moonlight, who comes from nearby Pickering, Ont. Friends and family, including twin sister Michelle [who is younger by two minutes], will be in the stands.

Moonlight, who turns 28 on July 2, calls Victoria home these days when he is not travelling with the Canadian sevens or 15-man team. It means time away from his girlfriend.

"But I love what I do. To be able to go on the field and represent your country is something that I feel strongly about," he said. "Every chance I get I count my lucky stars because it might be the last time I might actually get to step on the field."

Moonlight does double duty for Canada, playing both the seven- and 15-man versions of the sport.

"I do love both games," he said. "They both bring a different element for me, with 15s, there's a lot more contact, a lot more tackling which I do enjoy. And then in sevens, I obviously get a bit more freedom to run, take on the opponent one-one-one."

Moonlight took up the sport in Grade 9 as a back. But after Googling the different positions, he thought the rough-and-tough world of a flanker sounded more appealing than just running with the ball.

He also played hockey, football and volleyball, but started thinking about rugby more when Paul Connelly, who taught and coached at Uxbridge Secondary School, told him he was good enough to play for the Canadian under-19 side.

Moonlight made the Ontario team — he had been cut the year before — and earned a spot on the Canadian under-19 squad the next year. His cousin David Moonlight, a former Canadian international and sevens player of the year, also encouraged him.

"I really started to grow to love the game as I played at higher levels," he said.

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