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Canadian women finish satisfying sixth at Canada Sevens, men tie for 15th

Women finished in sixth-place, their highest showing of the season
Fans dressed as Yeti cheer on Canada as they play Brazil during HSBC Canada Sevens women’s rugby action, in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, March 4, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The final game didn’t end the way they wanted, but the Canadian women’s rugby team still managed its best result of the season Sunday at the HSBC Canada Sevens tournament.

The women erased a 10-point deficit to tie the match but then gave up a late try to lose 22-17 to Fiji.

The loss left Canada in sixth place. The women’s previous best was eighth place in Cape Town, South Africa.

“There’s a lot of good things to take away from this,” said Keyara Wardley of Vulcan, Alta., whose try in the 12th minute had the Canadian fans on their feet screaming.

Head coach Jack Hanratty said a couple of mistakes cost his team the win.

“We had the momentum, we’ve just got to stick with it,” Hanratty said.

The men, who staged an upset over Australia Friday but missed advancing to the quarterfinals due to a points differential, lost 31-14 to South Africa in their only game Sunday and finished in a tie for 15th place.

“It’s a bummer to not come away with points,” said captain Phil Berna.

The poor finish was a blow to a men’s team that sits 14th in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings with 19 points and is fighting to avoid relegation.

The New Zealand women won their fourth consecutive tournament with a 19-12 victory over Australia. The win also secured the Black Ferns a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The U.S. defeated France 19-7 for bronze.

New Zealand lead the women’s standings with 98 points, followed by Australia with 84, U.S. 82 and France 68.

On the men’s side, Argentina defeated France 33-12 to win their second tournament of the season. Australia beat Ireland 20-5 for the bronze.

New Zealand leads the men’s standings with 107 points, followed by Argentina and South Africa with 86, and Fiji with 84.

The top four men’s and women’s teams at the end of the season will qualify automatically for the Paris Olympics.

Against Fiji, co-captain Olivia Apps of Lindsay, Ont., scored a try and kicked a convert. Bianca Farella of Montreal scored Canada’s other try.

Farella is playing in her 44th sevens tournament, tying her with Australia’s Sharni Williams for most on the all-time list.

The women began the day with Fancy Bermudez scoring a pair of tries in a 24-12 win over Ireland.

The women fell behind 7-0 but responded with 24 straight points. The game turned when prop Olivia De Couvreur of Ottawa delivered a crunching hit early in the first half.

“That was a big monument piece,” said Bermudez. “It really got our energy back up.”

Apps scored a try and kicked two converts. Wardley also scored a try.

The result moved the Canadian women up two places in the overall standings to eighth place with 26 points.

The season has been a learning experience for a team that has 14 players making their international debut.

“We said we’re very young and inexperienced,” said Hanratty. “We don’t want to rely on that line.

“We want to be known for our results. We learned a lot this week. Now it’s about having consistency.”

Organizers say the three-day event attracted 66,736 fans. The crowds at BC Place Stadium were decked out in elaborate and colourful costumes. There were furry onesies and bright wigs. Some pink pigs with floppy ears sat near a flock of bees. A group of abominable snowmen waved a Canadian flag.

Lachlan Kratz of Victoria scored a try and kicked two converts in the men’s loss to South Africa. Jake Thiel of Abbotsford, B.C., added a try.

The men and women’s teams had a roller-coaster ride during the tournament and the men probably deserved a better fate. The women took advantage of a smaller field and a points differential system that worked in their favour.

This year’s tournament was expanded to include a full slate of 12 women’s teams competing at the same time as the 16 men’s teams.

The Canadian women lost their opening games 28-7 to Ireland and 17- 12 to the United States, then rebounded to beat Brazil 31-7.

They finished with a 1-2 record in Pool C but moved on because of their point differential. The top two teams from the three women’s pools advanced to the quarterfinals, along with the two best third-place teams.

The women then showed a determined effort in a 10-5 loss to New Zealand.

The men looked terrible in a 35-5 loss to Ireland in their opening game then played one of their best games of the tournament to beat Australia 29-12. They beat Chile 35-7 Saturday morning.

Despite a 2-1 record, they failed to advance to the medal round. The top two teams of the four men’s pools moved on. The men’s point differential left them third.

They lost 19-14 to Spain in the ninth-place quarterfinal.

Men’s interim coach Sean White saw positives in his team’s performance.

“I don’t think we’re happy, but we can certainly be proud,” he said. “I think we’ve shown what we’re capable of, it’s just about that repeat performance.”

Berna said the team is like a jigsaw puzzle that hasn’t been put together yet.

“We believe we have all the parts,” said the Vancouver native. “We just have to put it together on a consistent basis.”

The World Series is reducing the number of men’s core teams for the 2024 season from 16 to 12, to equal the number of women’s teams and align with the Olympic competition structure.

The men need to gain enough points in the remaining three tournaments to climb into 11th place or better and avoid playing in a relegation playoff.

“We don’t hide from the fact there’s relegation,” said White. “We’re trying to put the best performance in for each game and see where we get to.”

—Jim Morris, The Canadian Press