Rugby·Analysis

Canada's young core shines amidst lacking result at Las Vegas Sevens

There's no ‘i’ in team. We all know that. There is, however, one in Hirayama, and another in Braid. What would Team Canada do without the considerable influence of its dynamic duo?

Nathan Hirayama, Connor Braid, Jake Thiel show future still bright for men's squad

Canada's Nathan Hirayama runs with the ball under pressure from Scotland's Scott Ridell during the Challenge Trophy quarter-final at the Las Vegas Sevens. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

There's no 'i' in team. We all know that. There is, however, one in Hirayama, and another in Braid.

What would Team Canada do without the considerable influence of its dynamic duo? The respective performances and understanding of Nathan Hirayama and Connor Braid in Las Vegas were a brief highlight as the Canadians prepare to come home.

The next stop on the World Rugby Sevens Series takes teams to Vancouver beginning Mar. 9. The entire tournament will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca.

On a weekend that presented a legitimate passage to the Cup quarter-finals, Canada failed to find a way. A bizarre tie with Spain and a narrow loss to Samoa sealed the Canadians' fate, leaving them to contest the minor placings at the USA Sevens. Canada would finish 13th overall.

Hirayama is a captain others covet. Fleet of foot and swift of mind, he's engineered for rugby sevens. He's not only Canada's best player and leading points scorer; he is among the best there has ever been in this abbreviated version of thrill-a-minute rugby.

He takes responsibility as matter of course. Hirayama's decision-making elevates him above most of his peers. He is not the quickest, nor the bravest – but that's not his job. His ability to think his way out of danger areas and fluently bring others into offensive plays represent his hallmark qualities.

Then there are the stats. He's fourth all-time in points — let that sink in. During the weekend, Hirayama became the fourth man to break through the 1,600-point barrier, helping himself to 5 tries and more than 50 points.

Braid, Thiel continue growth

I would not pick an argument with Connor Braid. When it comes to the intimidating Canadian forward, what you see is what you get. A fiery redhead, with unwavering commitment to match, Braid is a one-man battering ram.

And he's so much more. You'll never see Braid shirk a tackle – his energy and fearlessness in Las Vegas was plain to see. His enthusiasm is infectious and his appetite in general support play means he's often in the thick of the action.

WATCH | The entire match between Canada and Samoa

Watch Canada battle Samoa at the World Rugby Sevens Series in Las Vegas, Nevada. 22:43

In full flight, Braid is a tough man to stop. Not only can he tackle, but he can carry the ball all day long. What he may lack in finesse, he more than makes up for in brute force and sheer determination.

There's another 'i' in Thiel. Far less experienced than his compatriots, Jake Thiel is still learning his trade. We are beginning to witness the fruits of his rugby education.

At just 21 years old, the youngster from Abbotsford, B.C., is a boy playing a man's game. He is still trying to establish himself as a regular member of the Canadian roster, but he appears to be heading in the right direction. He's quick and alert, so much so that Canadian rugby icon Gareth Rees described Thiel as the "find of the tournament".

Mental toughness

Canada finished a lowly 13th in the Nevada desert, but there are some positives. Hirayama's team was not outplayed by any of its opponents – not even the mighty New Zealand All Blacks. Samoa emerged from Canada's pool, making it all the way to the gold-medal game.

Yes, there were errors and missed tackles – but everyone makes mistakes. The fact that the Canadians had the reserves of energy and mental toughness to finish strongly, albeit against weaker opposition, demonstrates their resolve to compete professionally and respect the national jersey.

WATCH | The entire match between Canada and France

Watch Canada battle France at the World Rugby Sevens Series in Las Vegas, Nevada. 22:40

Now they can return home and, for a few days at least, sleep in their own beds.

And when they awake they can relish the prospect of fervent home support at the Canadian Sevens in Vancouver. It's a rugby festival always enjoyed by players and fans alike.

Indeed, there is no 'i' in team. But without the likes of Hirayama and Braid, there may very well be no Canadian team in the elite core of World Sevens Rugby at all.

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