March 7th, 2020 Vancouver, BC (ISN) – Saturday, a Canadian rugby record crowd of 39,533 sevens rugby fans were treated to the start of the HSBC World Rugby Vancouver Sevens Men’s tournament. For Canadian rugby fans, it was an extra special treat as they watched the Canadian sevens team get off to the best start in Vancouver Sevens history.
The Canadian Sevens men would turn their performance up a notch from past year’s Vancouver result, running undefeated Saturday in day one pool play against some of the best rugby sevens teams the world has to offer in this year’s World Rugby standings, lifting themselves into the quarter finals for the first time in Vancouver, and the first time in World Rugby place since the London leg in 2019.
By all accounts, if you were to look at the day one pool draw for the tenth-place Canadian side, you would might come to a quick conclusion that Canada may have chosen the short straw in the team draw, pitted against the fourth-place France, the perennial-podium, third place Fiji side, and a Wales team thrown in for good measure to round out the day, however the home team would come away scoring fourteen tries, and post a 3-0 record with inspired play that would make patriotic Canadian fans break out in song of “Oh Canada” during their matches.
The Canadians would open their Vancouver Sevens bid by defeating France 31-21, running away with a 24-0 lead into the half, capitalizing on France turnovers with an explosion tries by Nathan Hirayama, Lucas Hammond, Harry Jones, and Phil Berna to dominate the first seven minutes of play. France would post two tries in the second half in a comeback bid, but a final try by Canadian Connor Braid at the five-minute mark, and a reply by France with no time remaining would seal an all-important first win for Canada.
For Duncan native, Pat Kay, the win was especially memorable as he would celebrate his 50thcap for Canada Sevens men’s team.
On the win, Nathan Hirayama, sitting third on HSBC World Sevens all-time points scoring list, would have this to say about his team’s convincing, first match performance. ( The win) “ it feels great. I thought the boys did a fantastic job at kick off. When you win possession, things tend to go your way and we saw that in the first half. Our full focus is now on the next game. It doesn’t matter if we won by two or we won by twelve, it’s on to the next game now .”
Next up for Canada was the favorite, the Fijian side. The Canadian win over Fiji would only be the sixth time ever that Canada could claim a victory over the reigning Olympic champion Fiji. This time Canada would rely on two late trys by Pat Kay and Justin Douglas to snatch victory from defeat with a 26-21 win.
Ever dangerous with the ball, Canada did well to minimize Fiji’s ball possession. Canada would score first, throwing Canadian fans into a frenzy as Theo Sauder would score his first of two tries in the game. Fiji would answer a minute later to take the lead 7-5. Sauder would find his way to the try line again near the end of the half to take a short-lived lead as once again Fiji would break down the Canadian defense to score another try with no time remaining in the first half to give Fiji a narrow 14-12 lead.
Canada would hold Fiji well defensively, minimizing their offloads to looking for an opportunity to strike. That strike would come with two minutes remaining in the game. Canada, taking advantage of a rare, poor Fijian tackle at mid-field, would set Canada’s Pat Kay free to run through the uprights to dot the ball. Kay would kick his own conversion to pull his team to within three points of the lead. A back to back Fijian ball turnover near midfield would find Justin Douglas sprinting to the corner for the go ahead try with less than a minute remaining and a 26-14 Canadian lead. Fiji would score one final try with time expired, but the effort to little too late would give Canada the upset victory as Canadian fans would raise the dome roof in a thunderous roar.
“Anytime you can play a top team in the world right now in front of home fans and get a win like that, it’s huge for us,” Canada’s Justin Douglas would comment post game. When asked if there was any hesitation in his mind about scoring the final, game winning try, he would answer confidently, “ No, it was the right place at the right time, and it’s the one try you dream of..”
With the hard work seemingly in hand, Canada would close out the day with a match against the 15 ranked side in Wales. With their winning ways in hand, Canada would defeat Wales handily 29-7 on four first half trys by Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones, Isaac Kaay, and Pat Kay. Will Thomas would be the only reply for Wales. Canada’s Theo Sauder would score his third try of the tournament with less than a minute remaining to give the Canadian men their third victory to close out the day.
Canada now enters day two of the tournament seeded to a noon hour Cup quarter final match against Spain, who finished second in their “C” Pool. A win by either team would pit themselves against the winner of the Australia versus England match up and possible hunt for the big trophy.
When asked about his feeling about being in the hunt for the championship, veteran Canada Sevens player Harry Jones would comment, “It always feels good. It always feels good no matter who you are matched up against. It’s such a great feeling especially with the fans pushing us right now, it’s very special right now. For at least me, it’s (the fans encouragement) like unlimited fitness, because they push you every single time. Friends, family, the fans, they push us so hard, and it’s showing out there (on the pitch) right now.”