Canada’s Connor Braid (6) jumps for the ball against Samoa’s Elisapeta Alofipo (10) during World Rugby Sevens Series action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms

Canada scores upset win over Fiji at World Rugby Sevens, but fails to advance

Canada’s first game Sunday will be against Spain

They were on track with two wins but an embarrassing loss in their first game of the day ended up derailing the Canadian men’s playoff hopes Saturday at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens tournament.

Connor Braid of Victoria scored 21 points off three tries and conversions as Canada defeated Kenya 36-21 in their final game of Pool B on Saturday. Canada still needed help to reach the quarter-finals and the dream died when Fiji defeated Samoa 31-17 shortly after.

A lopsided 38-7 loss to Samoa in its first game of the 16-team tournament put Canada in distress early. The Canadians rallied for a 26-19 upset of Olympic champion Fiji in their second game, but they still needed Samoa to beat Fiji for any chance to reach the quarterfinals.

“We finished well but we were suffering for the poor display first thing this morning,” said head coach Damian McGrath.

“We were hoping for someone else do us a favour but really it should have been in our hands. As pleased as I am with how we finished the day, I’m disappointed with what went on early.”

The top two teams from each of the four pools advance to the elite quarterfinals. Samoa, Fiji and Canada all finished with 2-1 records. Canada didn’t advance because of a points differential.

Other teams reaching the quarterfinals are England, Argentina, New Zealand, France, the U.S. and South Africa.

The best Canada can finish in the tournament is ninth. The team will be without captain Nathan Hirayama, who missed the Kenya game with possible broken ribs.

The day was a roller coaster of emotions for Canada.

“How can you go from the despair and the performance we did against Samoa to doing that against the Olympic champions?” asked McGrath.

Braid said the team had to regroup after the Samoa debacle.

“I think we let everyone down against Samoa but it’s good to see everybody step up and jump back in there the last two games.”

McGrath said the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality of the team was on full display.

“It’s been the story of our year,” he said. “When we are on top, we can match any team in the world. I’m not saying we can beat them, but we can always match them.

“It’s the inconsistency that always seems to let us down. When we lose, we usually lose because of our own issues, not because we have been outplayed.”

In the opening game, Canada trailed 14-7 at halftime but things quickly fell apart in the second. Canada had trouble receiving kickoffs and the Samoans scored 24 unanswered points.

It was the 45th time in 56 meetings that Samoa beat Canada.

READ MORE: A healthy Harry Jones looks to help Canada rugby sevens men impress on home soil

Canada and Fiji were tied 12-12 at halftime before a heads-up play by Hirayama set up the winning try in the second half. Hirayama found some open field after a pretty deke, then passed to Harry Jones for the score.

It was just the fifth time in 52 games Canada has beaten Fiji in Rugby 7’s. The last victory was in December 2017 in Cape Town.

Canada’s first game Sunday will be against Spain.

The crowd at BC Place Stadium was a rainbow of costumes and colours. One section was decked out as green leprechauns, another wore white doctor’s jackets with green fuzzy wigs. Dotted among the crowd were people dressed as 60’s hippies, a trio of shepherds complete with hooked staffs, several Waldos, a fairy with wings, a couple Energizer Bunnies, Cookie Monster, a tiger and a horse. A few outfits defied description.

Canada stands 11th in the overall standings midway through the 10-event series. Canada advanced to the quarterfinals once in the first five tournaments, but have been close, missing out three times by losing a game by a single score.

Fiji won tournaments in Cape Town and Hamilton, New Zealand earlier this season. Samoa lost in the final to the U.S. in last week’s tournament in Las Vegas.

Jim Morris, The Canadian Press


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