Rugby·Analysis

Canada 7s can still control Olympic destiny despite underachieving on home turf

There was no triumphant rendition of the Canadian national anthem. In B.C., the Langford locals are getting used to it. In foreign lands Team Canada has shown us what can be achieved. Just not in its own backyard.

Women's team had chance to book ticket to 2020 Games, but finished 5th at World Series event in B.C.

Canada's Charity Williams scores a try as U.S. player Lauren Doyle tries for the tackle during quarter-final action at the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series at Westhills Stadium in Langford, B.C., on Sunday. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Oh dear Canada!

There was no triumphant rendition of the Canadian national anthem. In B.C., the Langford locals are getting used to it. In foreign lands Team Canada has shown us what can be achieved.

Just not in its own backyard.

Normal service was resumed at the Canada Women's Sevens. New Zealand dominated from start to finish and Canada fluffed its lines with an Olympic berth on the line. It's not terminal by any means, but it is a concern.

Let's start with the good news. Canada remains on course to be in Tokyo. Despite underachieving on home turf, the Canadians are 3rd in the standings with one tournament to go. A strong performance in the season finale in France will be enough to seal the deal.

We witnessed another strong performance from Karen Paquin. Her opportunism to score and her appetite for ferocious tackling makes a mockery of the fact she has been absent from the Canadian sevens scene for almost three years.

WATCH | Charity Williams says goal remains 2020 Olympics: 

Canada's Charity Williams reflects on her team's loss to the U.S. 0:47

Paquin was quick to heap praise on the team's loyal followers. "It's so energizing to be here — the fans are awesome," she enthused. "The energy is really great, and it's so fun to be able to share our passion with our home fans"

Brittany Benn, as always, put her body on the line. The Napanee, Ont., native is an unsung hero, but a key cog in the Red machine. Flying winger Charity Williams scored six tries to take her career total beyond the 50 mark, and captain Ghislaine Landry conducted the orchestra with a tournament leading 42 points.

Canada's cause was not helped by an injury to its top try scorer. Bianca Farella had to be nursed through the weekend and was not the clinical finisher we have come to admire. At least the Montrealer now has a month to rest and recover for Biarritz.

Credit the hosts with having the mental and physical fortitude to regroup and finish strongly. A small silver lining to complete an exhausting weekend as Canada outclassed England to finish fifth and earn 12 valuable points.

WATCH | Karen Paquin on determination to qualify for Tokyo:

CBC Sports' Brenda Irving caught up with Karen Paquin after Canada's 31-7 victory over England in the 5th place final at the Rugby World Series stop in Langford, B.C. 0:49

Canada, however, has medalled only once at its own party. In the ultra competitive world of Sevens rugby that's not good enough. Every game is a challenge and every opponent is looking for a weakness.

In moments of stress Canada was exposed. Both Australia and the USA, whom they beat in Japan, took full advantage of Canadian errors. John Tait's team cannot afford that inconsistency. It costs points during games, and damages reputations.

Canada must redouble its effort to be a solid top 3 team. New Zealand is in a class of its own, but the Canadians must demonstrate they will not be out-muscled or out-thought when it comes to its closest rivals who share the Olympic dream.

WATCH | Coach Tait says missed opportunity should provide spark: 

Women's rugby 7s head coach John Tait chats with CBC Sports' Brenda Irving after his teams 5th place finish in at the Rugby World Series stop in Langford, B.C. 1:55

The devil is in the detail. Do the simple things well, erase the handling errors and the concession of costly penalties. No team can afford to gift territory and possession to its opponents. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile.

New Zealand won in Langford for the fourth time in five visits. The Black Ferns' consistency and confidence is remarkable to watch. The only thing missing is an Olympic gold medal and New Zealand plans to address that in Japan next year.

For the rest, it's a sprint to the finish line. Just six points separate the USA, Canada and Australia, while France is hanging tough. Les Bleus reached the semi finals for the second tournament running and have home advantage ahead of them.

Canada must take what positives it can and move on. In reality, neither the goal nor the equation has changed. Canada's fate remains in its own hands.

There is no need to panic. The prize is still available. Canada just has to go to France to collect it.

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