Canada Sevens: Home side finish on high note

After disappointing defeats to Australia and South Africa, Canada beat Spain 26-21 to close pool play on day one of Canada Sevens 2022.

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Canadian David Richard is the avatar of his team’s promising new future.

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There are only two players on the Canadian team who competed at the Olympics last summer and Richard could have been one of them, barring a knee injury.

He was part of the Canadian team in the 2019-20 season, but was not a regular pick. He missed Canada’s 2020 R7 on a coach’s decisions.

So the speedy 21-year-old probably felt motivated to make an impact.

After a tough opening loss to Australia on Saturday, the Canadians took a 10-0 lead, but fell 24-10. They faced a tough but injury-riddled South African side in their second game.

But Richard gave his best in the match.

In the first half, he made a crucial tackle to save a try, tracking down a South African who had escaped from the Canadian defensive line and then returned the ball.

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“I’m very happy with that one, very excited,” he said.

Canada takes on South Africa in the HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday April 16, 2022.
Canada takes on South Africa in the HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday April 16, 2022. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

And in the second half, he scored Canada’s first try, recovering the loose ball after team-mate Cooper Coats threw it into the open space behind the South African defence. Richard almost overshot the ball but managed to hit the breaks just in time.

“He (Coats) saw his wing had pinched so he put a ball through and luckily I kind of put half a foot on it when the South African dived on it. I just saw it behind me, grabbed it and put it down for (the try). So I was really happy that the rebound was coming to us on that one.

Richard then scored Canada’s first try in their final game of the day against Spain, putting Canada on course for a 26-21 home-and-away victory.

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Canadian Brock Webster scored the winning try with about three minutes remaining, shredding a shrewd step to beat a defender before sprinting over 50 yards for the try. The try held on for the win, although the Canadians had a few nervous moments before the final whistle.

“We always try to find our identity in the way we play,” Canadian coach Henry Paul said at the end of the day. “Can’t fault the effort.”

He has a group of players who like to attack with the ball in hand and they have had some impressive defensive streaks. But to become a team that goes 2-1 or 3-0 in pool play, they have to become much more precise in everything they do.

“We obviously strive to make fewer mistakes than other teams and really turn our possession into positives,” he said.

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And although they made too many mistakes, the crowd helped them bounce back from many of them.

“The crowd carried us home in that final sprint. It was great to have them on your back and the boys really reacted,” he said.

Canada will face Japan in the quarterfinals for 9th place at 9:22 a.m. Sunday.

Canadian Alex Russell (left) closes in on South African Zain Davids during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday April 16, 2022.
Canadian Alex Russell (left) closes in on South African Zain Davids during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday April 16, 2022. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Tough day for USA

The Americans started the day losing their star player, Perry Baker, to a head injury.

The lanky speedster was treated by medics after suffering a severe blow in their opening game against Kenya and was taken to hospital. He was declared stable and healthy later that day, but ruled out of the tournament.

They also lost 19-17 to the hard-hitting Kenyans.

The Americans beat England in their second match but were then knocked out of the quarter-finals due to a heavy loss to Fiji, who finished top of the pool with a 3-0 record. England had beaten Kenya in the game just before, so the Americans’ loss made for three teams with 1-2 records and the English had the better points difference, putting them in second place.

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Renaissance Samoa

Samoans brought back a national legend in Brian Lima to coach the seven-man squad. And most of their squad are local, a change from years past when many of their squad lived in New Zealand.

They impressed last weekend in Singapore and also put in an outstanding performance on Saturday. They finished second in their group, beating Wales and Japan before losing by a try to New Zealand.

They could be an interesting dark horse on Sunday.

smaller crowd

Since its inception, the Canada Sevens has been known to attract large crowds.

But this weekend, the crowd at BC Place was smaller. In the past, nearly 38,000 people have shown up each day of the two-day event.

On Saturday, organizers put the crowd at around 18,000.

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Those who showed up were in full sevens, decked out in the usual array of costumes, or “disguises” as the sevens tend to call them.

Organizers said there were several reasons the crowd was smaller, but most importantly:

• Fans are still nervous about COVID-19. Sewage data suggests infection rates are rising. Usually, ticket sales during the winter are constant, but this winter, once the Omicron variant appeared, the sales stopped.

• The tournament was originally scheduled for February, but due to new restrictions during the Omicron wave, it has been pushed back to this weekend. Some fans asked for ticket refunds because they couldn’t attend the new dates.

• If the 2021 tournament was only in September, perhaps casual fans weren’t yet craving a new dose of Sevens and his fan experience.

Organizers hope 2023 will bring the tournament back to its usual place in early March and they are attracting large crowds. Many sponsors and sequel owners have said they plan to return to regular attendance next year, pandemic conditions permitting.

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