Canada its own worst enemy in sevens

 

Struggling rugby side hoping to get back on track as they attempt to qualify for Rio Olympics

 
 
 
 
Nathan Hirayama of Canada grabs the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament against Russia at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
 
 

Nathan Hirayama of Canada grabs the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament against Russia at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photograph by: David Becker, Getty Images

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They rode home field advantage to a dramatic repeat gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Now, Canada’s men’s rugby sevens squad will hope a raucous home crowd at BC Place next weekend for the sixth stop of the HSBC World Sevens Series can help get them get back on track for last-chance qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Vancouver is on the 10-stop World Series tour for the first time. When the 16-country event was confirmed for BC Place a year ago, the Canadian men’s team was riding high. They had finished a career-best sixth in the 2013-2014 Series, a result that included a best ever third-place finish at Las Vegas. They then finished ninth in the 2014-2015 campaign.

But it’s been tough sledding for Canada in 2015-2016. They entered this past weekend’s event in Las Vegas in 12th place in the season standings and lost Sunday afternoon’s Shield final to Samoa 24-12 to finish a season-worst 14th.

“It’s super disappointing,” Nathan Hirayama of Vancouver, one of several B.C. born players on the Canadian squad, said from Las Vegas. “We did a lot of work over the last three or four weeks, preparing on and off the field and it’s always disappointing when you feel you underachieved.”

Canada went 0-2-1 in pool play, losing 33-7 to South Africa, drawing with the U.S. 26-26 and falling 17-10 to Wales.

The Canadians then lost their Bowl quarter-final 19-10 to Russia before bouncing back on Sunday morning with a 24-7 win over injury-decimated England. But they couldn’t sustain the momentum four hours later against Samoa, even after scoring the opening try 15 seconds into the match.

Canada’s big problem in Las Vegas was falling behind early, a tough thing to do in a 14-minute game. They trailed the U.S. 19-7 at the half and 26-7 with four minutes to play before staging a furious rally. They were also down 17-0 to Wales and 19-5 soon after halftime to Russia.

“We haven’t been starting very well this season and it’s something we’ve got to look at,” said Hiryama. “It’s hard when you’re having to chase games. The snowball effect of errors ... we’re not making life easy on ourselves.”

Hiryama said the squad is looking forward to playing in front of a huge, supportive home crowd this weekend.

“It will definitely make a difference. We’re all so stoked to play in front of lots of friends and family. It’s going to be a special occasion for us and we want to make the most of it.”

Meantime, the BC Place event continues to be a hot ticket.

On Friday, organizers announced that 5,000 more tickets would be made available, a week after saying that they had achieved a lower bowl sellout — 28,000 for each of the two days.

“We have been hearing loud and clear that ticket demand has exceeded ticket supply,” Bill Cooper, Canada Sevens CEO, said in a statement.

“We want to make sure that everyone who wants to experience this inaugural event has the opportunity to do so and enjoys a fan experience that delivers the kind of infectious excitement that sevens rugby has become known for.”

That excitement and spirit includes a curious, often hilarious, side show that has built up around sevens tournaments. Often described as a place where rugby meets carnival, fans are encouraged to dress up in elaborate and zany costumes, with many coming as characters from different walks of life.

Examples of some of the more inventive and outlandish costumes can be found all over the Internet. There are some dress codes, however. Clothing must conform to “reasonable standards of decency,” although those boundaries often appear to be stretched. Gang patches and accessories that look like, or can be as, weapons are prohibited.

On the field, the sevens game has been boosted this year by an influx of top 15s stars with an eye to getting a shot an Olympic medal. Among that group is New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams, who will miss Vancouver after picking up an injury in Las Vegas, Australia’s Quade Cooper and South African speedster Bryan Habana.

“I think we’re going to see more and more of it in the sevens game,” Canadian coach Liam Middleton told the Canadian Press last week. “It’s appeal as a sport, as a rugby game is increasingly massively. I think it’s great for the game because it shows that sevens is not a feeder game for the 15s any more.

“Worldwide it’s now a stand-alone sport that holds a lot of credibility and hold a lot of respect.”

Canada has not yet qualified for Rio. The sevens squad will get a chance to earn the 12th and final spot at a repechage tournament in June at Monaco. Sixteen teams will be vying for the single spot, with Samoa, Hong Kong, Ireland, Portugal, Russia and Zimbabwe among the nations that Canada will have to deal with.

gkingston@postmedia.com

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Nathan Hirayama of Canada grabs the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament against Russia at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
 

Nathan Hirayama of Canada grabs the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament against Russia at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photograph by: David Becker, Getty Images

 
Nathan Hirayama of Canada grabs the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament against Russia at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nathan Hirayama of Canada grabs the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament against Russia at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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