March 3, 2017 Las Vegas, NV (ISN) – The Canadian men’s sevens squad kicked off their return to North American play Friday afternoon in the Las Vegas leg of the World Rugby Sevens world tour. Canada, posted a 1-1 record against strong pool play that put the Maple Leafs against top-ranked South Africa, and seventh place Wales in day one action.
Canada, sitting in twelfth position so far this year in world play, is looking for a positive result after a disappointing finish in Sydney in last month’s tour leg. Careful not to look too far forward to the sold out tournament in Vancouver awaiting them back home March 11-12, Canada looked for a strong start to their 2017 return to the Western Hemisphere.
Canada (12) vs South Africa (1)
The Canadian side would open play Friday evening against an unenviable opponent in a high-flying South African team that currently sits in top spot in the world. Boasting an unbelievably quick squad, Canada expected to be tasked in finding a win against the top tier team.
Canada would bring their lunch box to the game, shocking South Africa in the first two minutes, camped ten metres out, Canada would spread the South African line thin, allowing John Moonlight to roll in for the first try for either side to put Canada up 7-0. South Africa’s Ruhan Nel would capitalize on a Canadian turnover to run from midfield for an answer two minutes later. A missed convert would keep Canada in the lead at the half 7-5.
Costly turnovers would figure in Canada’s fortune in the second under South Africa’s pressure. South Africa’s would count on the speedy Rosko Specman for two trys. Canada’s Adam Zaruba would impress with his determined play down the sidelines, only to be turned away late, as South Africa would pull away with a 26-7 win on a final try by Branco du Preez.
Canada (12) vs Wales (7)
Canada proved resilient in their second test of the day, matching the seventh ranked Wales play for play most of the game. Some great individual effort, despite two yellow cards in the game, would hand Canada the bounce back win defeating Wales 24-21, on a try by Mike Fuailefau with no time remaining.
Canada would take to the board first on a Hirayama two step to break through the Welsh line for the opening try. The Welsh side would take advantage of a Canadian penalty after Pat Kay would be sent off for two minutes, putting their own mark on the board and a try by to even the score 7-7. Canada would take the lead with time running out in the first half as Justin Douglas would beat the Welsh side with good pace to go up 12-7 at halftime.
Wales’ Sam Cross would give his team their first lead of the game in the second half, putting the ball down across the line to take a two point lead 14-12 with a mark in the corner. Canada’s Phil Berna would take back the lead 17-14 with a determined effort for another try as both teams spar with less than three minutes remaining. After the barn was all but burnt down, Wales would retake the lead 21-17 on a Luke Morgan try and appeared set for their first victory.
Canada, held deep in their own end with no time remaining, would control the ball movement to midfield where Nate Hirayama would break tackle to blaze a trail downfield to narrowly escape scoring the winning try himself if it wasn’t for some Welsh heroics. Poised to score, Canada’s Mike Fuailefau would put downward pressure on the ball for the winning try to stun Wales.
Canada, sitting on a strong position, will play France Saturday afternoon to round out the pool standings before elimination play begins. Canada sits tied with France in second place, behind South Africa, with a 1-1 record.
When asked what Canada will have to do to be successful against France, Canada’s captain John Moonlight would comment, “ We will need to come out fast the way we did against South Africa in the first half. Hold onto that ball and make them work when they have the ball.” Moonlight, serving in his 53rd cap of his sevens career in Las Vegas, became Canada Sevens longest serving captain, surpassing Phil Mack ( 52 ) who recently retired from sevens play just last year.
Canada’s men will take to the field at Saturday against France at 3:46 PST. Canada’s women’s sevens team will also play France at 8:44 am PST Saturday morning