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Canada 2nd in rugby sevens pool with 2-1 record, meets Great Britain in quarterfinal

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VANCOUVER — The Canadian men couldn’t climb out of an early hole and lost 29-19 to the U.S. to finish second in their pool in Saturday’s opening day of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

The men had cruised past Germany 24-5 and rallied for a 19-14 win over Chile in their first two games. Against the U.S. they quickly fell behind 19-0.

“We didn’t have any possession in the first six minutes,” said coach Henry Paul. “We have to work harder on our set pieces and our kickoffs.”

Paul was pleased his team didn’t quit.

“When we actually had the ball in hand I was impressed,” he said. “We battled back. I’m really proud.”

Canada will face Great Britain in Sunday’s quarterfinal while the U.S. plays Kenya.

The Canadian women were beaten 22-12 by the U.S. and 19-5 by Great Britain before defeating Mexico 39-0 in the opening day of the Fast Four competition.

Canada (1-2) will play the U.S. (2-1) in one semifinal Sunday while Great Britain (3-0) faces Mexico (0-3). The winners play for the gold medal while the losers meet for the bronze.

“We built every game,” said coach Kelly Russell, a member of the Canadian team that won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “To end the game with a success like that is really positive moving into Day 2.”

On the men's side, Matthew Percillier, Anton Ngongo and Jack Carson – all players appearing in their first World Rugby Sevens Series – scored tries for Canada against the U.S. Brennig Prevost kicked two converts.

Canada has nine players making their series debut.

“The veteran guys are leading by example and the young guys are taking the opportunities and really showing what they can do,” said captain Phil Berna, a member of the team that finished eighth at the Tokyo Olympics. “They’re not playing timid.”

Paul said his team must be better against Great Britain.

“We know they are a great team,” he said. “We know they have a lot of World Series experience. We’ll give them a ton of respect, go out and try and show energy and enthusiasm.”

Canada trailed Chile 14-12 when Percillier took a pass from Berna to score the winning points. Veterans Andrew Coe and Jake Thiel also scored tries for Canada in that game.

“We found our footing in the second half,” said Percillier, a member of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. “If we bring that tempo the whole game no one is going to keep up with us.”

Prevost scored one try and set up another in the win over Germany. Josiah Morra of Toronto scored two tries while Prevost added two converts.

Alysha Corrigan of Charlottetown, P.E.I., scored two tries in the women's win over Mexico. Emma Chown of Barrie, Ont., Fancy Bermudez Chavez of Edmonton, Olivia Apps of Victoria, Chloe Daniels of Sutton, Ont., and Asia Hogan-Rochester of Toronto also scored.

Canada led the U.S. 12-5 at half time of the opening match before giving up 17 second-half points.

“Sevens comes down to fitness and those extra couple of metres,” said Apps, the team captain. “The U.S. really took it to us. They found our weaknesses in the defensive line and used them perfectly to keep possession and score.

“It was a tough match.”

Chown scored two tries while Daniels kicked two converts.

Renee Gonzalez, a Scarborough, Ont., native who now attends the University of Victoria, scored Canada’s lone points in the loss to Great Britain.

The other men’s quarterfinals will see South Africa play Spain, Chile face Jamaica and Germany take on Mexico.

The tournament is the first HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event since COVID-19 put the brakes on the circuit last March. Canada finished third in the last tournament played in Vancouver.

COVID-19 concerns meant attendance at BC Place Stadium was capped at around 13,500 in the lower bowl, but that didn’t deter fans from dressing for the event. Scattered among the crowd were wizards in tall hats, a bunch of yellow bananas, different varieties of furry creatures, several pirates, a group dressed like canned clams, what looked like a bottle of ketchup, some Mounties, a blue shark, and several people in loud Hawaiian shirts.

This year’s tournament has only 12 men’s teams instead of the normal 16. Rugby powerhouses like New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and Samoa decided to skip the event.

Several veterans of the Canadian men’s team like Nate Hirayama, Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor all retired after the Tokyo Games.

World Rugby says there will be no relegation from the 2021 Series and the results will not count toward seedings for future events.

The two-day tournament ends Sunday.

The teams next head to Edmonton to play next weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.

Jim Morris, The Canadian Press